Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 8

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Thursday

No. 20 Utah (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) at Oregon State (4-1, 1-1)
  • In Pac-12 games, Utah kicker Andy Phillips is 4 for 5 on field goals of 40 yards or more. The rest of the Pac-12 is 8 for 16. Oregon State’s Trevor Romaine is 4 for 4 on field goals this year and hit a 47-yarder against Colorado.
  • In four combined games in the Pac-12, Oregon State (six) and Utah (two) have reached the red zone just eight times.
  • In conference play, Oregon State’s 29.2 (7 for 24) third-down conversion percentage is the worst in the Pac-12.
  • When Utah picks up the initial first down of a drive, it scores 59.5 percent of the time, second-best in the Pac-12 behind Oregon. The Utes have scored on 41.2 percent of all drive this year.
  • Oregon State ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 in total defense (331.4 yards per game).
Saturday

UCLA (4-2, 1-2) at California (4-2, 2-2)
  • UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s completion percentage of 72.2 is the best mark in the country.
  • UCLA has gone three-and-out 11.8 percent of the time this year, the second-lowest rate in the Pac-12.
  • Cal gains at least five yards on 45.9 percent of its plays, the second-highest rate in the Pac-12.
  • UCLA picks up a first down or touchdown on 35.5 percent of its plays, the second-highest rate in the Pac-12.
  • Cal has allowed 24 passing touchdowns this year, the most in the country.
Colorado (2-4, 0-3) at No. 22 USC (4-2, 3-1)
  • Against FBS teams, USC’s opponents have a combined winning percentage of 77.5, the highest number in the Pac-12 and third-best nationally.
  • Colorado’s average yards margin per game in Pac-12 play (plus-50) is tied for second in the Pac-12 with Arizona.
  • USC’s Javorius Allen leads the Pac-12 in carries (135), rushing yards (781) and rushing touchdowns (7).
  • In four conference games, USC is averaging 11.25 penalties a game, the most in the Pac-12.
  • Colorado WR Nelson Spurce has been targeted 89 times this year, the second-most in the country.
Washington (5-1, 1-1) at No. 9 Oregon (5-1, 2-1)
  • Oregon is averaging 3.42 points per drive, the most in the country, and is the only Pac-12 team scoring on more than half its drive (51.4 percent).
  • Two players in the country have at least nine touchdown passes without an interception: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (17 TD)s and Washington’s Cyler Miles (9 TDs).
  • Oregon has gained 59.9 percent of the available yards this year, the best mark in the Pac-12 and eighth-best in the country.
  • Washington is the only team in the Pac-12 that has more yards rushing than passing.
  • Washington receiver Jaydon Mickens accounts for the highest percentage of his team’s receptions (34.4) in the Pac-12.
No. 23 Stanford (4-2, 2-1) at No. 17 Arizona State (4-1, 2-1)
  • Stanford’s average starting field position margin this season is plus-14.7, which is the best advantage in the country and nearly double that of the Pac-12’s next best team (Utah, plus-7.8).
  • Arizona State (5.4 per game) and Stanford (6.5) are the two least penalized teams in the Pac-12.
  • Stanford is the only team in the conference that has not converted on fourth down this season (0 for 4). Arizona State is 5 of 9.
  • Teams are averaging 65.3 players per game against Stanford this year, the least amount in the Pac-12. ASU is averaging 77.2 plays per game on offense.
  • In terms of the percent of each team’s total receptions, ASU’s Jaelen Strong (34.2) and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery (30.6) are two of the four most relied-upon receivers in the Pac-12.
Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6Week 7
Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson isn’t normal.

[+] EnlargeShaq Thompson
Joshua Weisberg/Icon SportswireShaq Thompson has scored four defensive touchdowns through six games for Washington.
 Not according to teammate (and adoring fan) John Ross, at least.

“There’s something wrong with that kid,” Ross said following Washington’s 31-7 win against Cal on Saturday. “Honestly, he’s my favorite college football player.”

It’s hard to argue with Ross’ analysis. How else can you explain how one player has scored four defensive touchdowns through just six games?

“I’d like to say coaching,” Washington coach Chris Petersen joked. “But he just has the football 'it factor.' That’s really it.”

There's a right-place, right-time aspect to it, but Thompson attributed it to mentality.

"We don’t ever fall on balls," he said. "We always have the mentality to scoop and score. If you can’t get it, then you fall on it."

At the midway point, Thompson has scored more defensive touchdowns than any player has in a full season over the past 10 years. And only one team in the country (Temple) has more than him this year (5). Factor in the 57-yard rushing touchdown he scored against Eastern Washington -- the Huskies’ longest rush of the year -- and Thompson’s touchdown total is more than Southern Methodist has as a team through five games. Yes, a linebacker has scored more touchdowns than an entire team.

“Film speaks for itself,” said Washington outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who leads the nation with 10 sacks. “Every game he does something amazing … look out for the Heisman right there.”

While Thompson doesn’t have a realistic shot at winning college football’s most prestigious award, it’s not because his case doesn’t have merit. He ranks fifth in the country in forced fumbles (3), second in fumble recoveries (3) and against Illinois became just the third player in history to score on a fumble return and interception return in the same game.

Against Cal, he added a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown after quarterback Jared Goff lost the ball stretching for the end zone on the first drive of the game. It was the fourth 100-yard play in school history and longest fumble return, but more importantly it changed the trajectory of the game.

“Probably about as big [a momentum change] as you can get,” Petersen said. “I think those kids on defense played really, really well and there wasn’t a better play than that all game. Just in terms of where it came, I think they came out and drove the ball down the field and I’m sure they were thinking, ‘Here we go again, scoring a bunch of points.’

“He seems to always make a play when we need one.”

Playing at Cal was a homecoming of sorts for Thompson, who grew up about an hour and a half from Berkeley in Sacramento and had about 20 family members in attendance -- including his brother, Syd’Quan, who played at Cal from 2005 to 2009. Thompson originally committed to Cal, but looking back, Thompson said he’s happy with how things have played out.

“I chose UW because I didn’t want to follow in my brother’s footsteps,” he said. “UW was a great place for me.”

Thompson and defensive tackle teammate Danny Shelton were both named to the ESPN.com Midseason All-America team.

Week 7 Pac-12 QB Power Rankings

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
2:00
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The Pac-12 is loaded with talent at quarterback this season to the point where it seems like the conference is a hoarder and really good QBs are in abundance. But, this is the way we like it. And the other conferences can keep hoarding whatever they like as long as the signal-callers stay west.

Every week we'll provide you with a power ranking of the conference's top quarterbacks, heavily considering the QB's most recent game. Week 7 was interesting because only eight quarterbacks were in the rotation, but fear not, we still have a top five.

Drumroll please...

Inactive Week 7: Arizona State's Mike Bercovici, Taylor Kelly; Colorado's Sefo Liufau, Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Utah's Kendal Thompson, Travis Wilson

Pac-12 midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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Looking through a Pac-12 lens, it's hard to make sense of the first half of the college football regular season, so at this point, why even bother?

Instead, let's embrace absurdity.

[+] EnlargeJaelen Strong
Ric Tapia/Icon SportswireJaelen Strong's game-winning touchdown catch against USC was one of three Hail Marys completed in the Pac-12 in the season's first seven weeks.
Through seven weeks, we’ve seen three Hail Marys, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday throw for 734 yards in a game and another game that featured 14 touchdown passes (and didn't involve Mike Leach). In conference play, the average margin of victory is 4.2 points, only five of 18 games have been decided by more than one score and home teams are just 4-14.

And that's just the tip of what's already transpired.

The collective unpredictability of what happens week to week might endanger the conference's ability to get into the College Football Playoff -- Oregon remains the best shot -- but for Pac-12 football consumers, that's an OK trade-off.

As we make the turn to the second half, here are a few midseason honors:

Offensive MVP: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon. The Heisman Trophy candidate picked up where he left off, throwing for 17 touchdowns without an interception through the first six games. He's the nation's leader in QBR (88.9) and passing efficiency (193.7), ranks second in touchdown pass percentage (11 percent) and third in yards per attempt (10.46).

Defensive MVP: LB Shaq Thompson, Washington. It's important to acknowledge Thompson's four defensive touchdowns -- only one team in the nation (Temple) has more -- because it might be the most impressive stat of the first half, but Thompson is so much more than that. He's one of the most versatile players in the country and ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in tackles per game.

Biggest surprise: California. After finishing without an FBS win in coach Sonny Dykes' debut season a year ago, the Bears (4-2, 2-2 Pac-12) are the surprise not only of the Pac-12, but possibly the country. Jared Goff was up and down as a true freshman, but with 22 touchdown passes and three interceptions, he now stacks up well among the nation's best quarterbacks.

Biggest disappointment: UCLA. The Bruins were a trendy College Football Playoff pick during the preseason, but after home losses to Utah and Oregon the past two weeks, that possibility is practically gone. Outside of its 62-27 win at Arizona State, UCLA simply has not impressed, and quarterback Brett Hundley is no longer a major player in the Heisman race.

Newcomer of the year: RB Nick Wilson, Arizona. Remember when there was all that concern about how Arizona would replace Ka'Deem Carey? Wilson, a true freshman, is more than the Wildcats could have hoped for. His 114.6 rushing yards per game ranks third in the Pac-12 and 17th nationally, and the one game he missed due to injury was Arizona's only loss.

Best coach: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona. With apologies to Utah's Kyle Whittingham and Dykes, who are equally deserving, Rodriguez gets the nod after leading the Wildcats to a 5-1 start and a No. 16 ranking in the AP poll. The job he's done resurrecting Arizona during Michigan's demise is one of the more entertaining storylines of the college football season.

Best game: Arizona 49, Cal 45. Well, there certainly wasn't a lack of choices. Ultimately, this game was chosen over Cal's 60-59 win against Washington State and only because a Hail Mary finish is infinitely more exciting than a missed 19-yard field goal. Austin Hill's catch in the end zone capped a 36-point fourth quarter for Arizona that helped erase an 18-point deficit.

Watching this hasn't gotten old (sorry, Cal).

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
10:00
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Pac-12 home teams are 4-14 this season, but the coaches in the conference continue to find recruiting success despite being forced to pitch their programs to prospects following home defeats. This past Saturday, Pac-12 home teams went 0-3 yet came out victorious on the recruiting trail, landing commitments and making positive impressions.

Planning for success: Washington

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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It's been exactly 4,000 days since Washington last beat Oregon.

The iPhone was still nearly four years away from its initial release on that chilly Nov. 1, 2003 night at Husky Stadium, during which Keith Gilbertson's Huskies pummeled Mike Bellotti's Ducks 42-10 in Seattle.

[+] EnlargeHau'oli Kikaha
Ted S. Warren/AP PhotoWashington will lean on Hau'oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson to force pressure on No. 9 Oregon in their Week 8 game.
The tide turned drastically after that day, and Washington has now lost 10 straight games at the hands of Oregon -- by an average margin of 24.5 points. The Ducks are three-touchdown favorites for this next meeting at Autzen Stadium, so it'll take an extraordinary Huskies' effort for the current streak to reverse course here in 2014.

Mayhem inducer: Washington's predatory front seven

The Huskies hope to apply the successful formula from last Saturday's 31-7 rout over Cal to this Eugene road trip, where victory obviously promises to be much more difficult.

Their recipe in a nutshell: Six-foot-two, 339-pound fire hydrant Danny Shelton swallows blockers and plugs holes on the inside. That allows defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to unleash defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha, whose 13 tackles for loss and 10 sacks lead the Pac-12. Kikaha, along with linemate Andrew Hudson and others, delivers a vicious rush that "squeezes the pocket" and, in turn, fosters an environment for takeaways.

"We're trying to lead all of college football in forcing turnovers," linebacker Shaq Thompson said after Washington reaped the benefits of three fumbles in Berkeley.

After Cal's Jared Goff coughed up the ball on a sneak attempt at the goal line, Thompson -- a self-proclaimed "magnet" that attracts loose footballs -- spun and sprinted his way 100 yards in the other direction, scoring the game's opening touchdown and setting the tone for a one-sided affair.

"We don't ever fall on balls," Thompson smiled. "We have a scoop-and-score mentality."

The junior has now scored a staggering four defensive touchdowns in six games.

"That was the key to the game," coach Chris Petersen said. "That sparked us, and it probably rattled them a little bit."

The Huskies have done plenty of rattling: They've forced 12 fumbles -- most in the nation -- and 15 turnovers, good for the conference lead. On the flip side, their own offense is protecting the ball. Since Washington has given it away only once all season (best in the nation), they're leading all of college football in turnover margin: +2.33 per game.

Oregon: Good at avoiding havoc, especially with a healing line

Though he hasn't put up gaudy numbers, quarterback Cyler Miles is one of only three quarterbacks nationally that has attempted over 100 passes while not throwing an interception. Coincidentally, the other two passers also play in the Pac-12. Their names are Marcus Mariota and Travis Wilson.

Mariota's Ducks stand in Washington's way again this Saturday, and they'll put the Huskies' ability to wreak havoc to the test. Oregon has only coughed up the ball three times this year, putting them right behind the Huskies at No. 2 nationally in that category.

Before plastering UCLA, it appeared the Ducks might be vulnerable to Washington's rush up front. But the return of left tackle Jake Fisher from injury has altered that perception. Oregon has not allowed a single sack in three of the four games Fisher has started.

That sets up quite the challenge for Washington's ferocious and athletic defensive front seven. The Oregon line is healing, and beating it while containing Mariota to the pocket presents Washington with a massive test. While the Huskies held Cal over 43 points below their season average last week, the Ducks have proven to be much more stable with the football than the Bears. Shelton, Kikaha, Thompson and the rest of the Huskies' front will enter Autzen looking to wreak their trademarked turnover havoc, but their ability to do so is shaping up to be Washington's ultimate, expert-level test.

Of course, success never comes easily when this particular kind last stopped by 4,000 days ago, right?

Pac-12 morning links

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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AM ET
Run to the moon, "Moon won't you hide me?"
Run to the sea, "Sea won't you hide me?"
Run to the sun, "Sun won't you hide me all on that day?"

Leading off

Last week Chantel Jennings and Kyle Bonagura debated what the Pac-12's theme song should be. A pretty good effort from the whipper-snappers. But given the number of appeals to a higher power so far this season, "Livin' on a Prayer" felt more appropriate to this old fogie.

And that leads us to this week's Eliminator, where nine Pac-12 teams are still very much living on a prayer in the hopes of advancing to the first ever College Football Playoff. Two teams -- Arizona and Oregon -- are still labeled "Still in Contention" while six teams -- Arizona State, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah and Washington -- fall under the "On the Fence" side of things. Here's what our Mark Schlabach has to say about the Beavers:
After a 4-1 start, the Beavers got a much-needed bye week before hosting No. 20 Utah on Thursday night. Then they play at Stanford on Oct. 25, so we'll have a pretty good idea whether the Beavers are really in the Pac-12 race, in which 10 teams still seem to be a factor. The Oregon State defense was exposed quite a bit in a 36-31 win at Colorado on Oct. 4, so they'll have to play much better against the Utes and Cardinal.

For a league that many are already counting out of the playoff, it sure seems like there are still a lot of teams hanging around.

Midterms

Athlon Sports took a look at where things stand in the Pac-12 at the midpoint of the season. (That's a popular theme this week, and the Pac-12 blog will be addressing that later this morning).

Braden Gall recaps some of the big storylines from the first half of the season and offers some more to look at in the coming weeks. Here is his take on Oregon's offensive line in the second half of the year.
With Jake Fisher back against UCLA, the Ducks' offensive line looked as good as it has since the beginning of the season. Oregon has two huge games looming with Stanford and Washington -- two of the best defensive fronts in the nation -- and this group will have to be excellent to win those games. If this group stabilizes, Oregon could win the Pac-12 and land in the Playoffs while giving Marcus Mariota a great shot at the Heisman. If not, the Ducks could finish with three losses and another Alamo Bowl bid.
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Taking a break from Oregon State prep.

Awkward …

When Arizona State sports information director Mark Brand returned from lunch on Monday, there was a package waiting at his desk. Nothing unusual there.

But when he opened it, he found Ka’Deem Carey’s All-America plaque from the American Football Coaches Association. Carey, of course, was the record-setting running back from Arizona -- not Arizona State.

“This happens all the time,” Brand said. “A few weeks ago, a color analyst [from another network] called us Arizona about five times in the first half.”

After a fun Twitter exchange between Maggie Emmons, who works in the ASU sports information department, and the Arizona athletic department, we’re pleased to report that Carey’s award is already on its way to Tucson.

We've reached the season's halfway point, and we may actually know less about the Pac-12 than when the year started. The road team has won 14 of 18 conference games so far this season, the South has turned into a gigantic free-for-all in which five of the six teams still harbor legitimate hopes of winning, and the North picture isn't too much clearer. Oregon and Stanford appear to again be on a decisive collision course there, but it'd be foolish to just assume that in a time when consistency does not seem to be allowed. Plus, both face tricky tests in another intriguing slate this week. So, it's time to circle the wagons and do it all over again.

The delicious appetizer: Utah at Oregon State

Just over two weeks ago, the Utes and the Beavers became afterthoughts on the same night: Kyle Whittingham's club blew a big lead at home against Washington State right before Mike Riley's men found themselves on the receiving end of a thorough whipping in the Coliseum.

Then the fickle face of the Pac-12 smiled. And suddenly, Utah and Oregon State have a prime opportunity to capitalize on chaos. The winner of Thursday night's clash in Corvallis will improve to 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference race. With the recent extinction of unbeaten Pac-12 teams, that would equate to prime positioning in this topsy-turvy conference race. Take both of these teams seriously because they're both playing sturdy defense: The Utes (allowing 4.7 yards per play) and the Beavers (allowing 4.8 yards per play) are ranked two and three in that category behind Stanford in the Pac-12. Utah leads the Pac-12 in sacks, and that'll test Sean Mannion's release.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: Washington at Oregon

The 5-1 Ducks have owned the Huskies for an entire decade, and they'll need to make it 11 straight to remain at the top of the Pac-12 North. Oregon blasted UCLA's shaky defense right out of the Rose Bowl Saturday en route to a 42-10 lead and 42-30 win, but this next game promises to challenge Marcus Mariota. The 5-1 Huskies have grown up quickly on the defensive end. Just ask Cal's offense, which only mustered seven points against the Dawgs despite coming in averaging more than 50 per game.

Speaking of Mariota, he's been spectacular: 70 percent completion rate, 17 touchdowns, no interceptions. In fact, only three quarterbacks in the nation have attempted more than 100 passes this season without throwing a single interception, and all of them play in the Pac-12: Mariota, Washington's Cyler Miles, and Utah's Travis Wilson.

We'll find out if the Ducks have made true progress in fixing their offensive line woes next Saturday. Oregon hasn't allowed any sacks in three of the four games that left tackle Jake Fisher has started (he's back!), but they also haven't faced a defensive front seven of Washington's caliber. Hau'oli Kikaha (conference-leading 10 sacks) and Danny Shelton are dominant forces right now, and that's allowing Shaq Thompson to wreak havoc from the second level. Oregon will be tested Saturday, especially if Miles continues to avoid turnovers.

The proving grounds game/redemption opportunity: UCLA at Cal

Both of these teams had golden opportunities at home last Saturday, and both went up in flames early. The Bruins wilted against Oregon, while the Bears could never recover from Jared Goff's goal line fumble that Thompson returned 100 yards for Washington's first score.

So neither team was ready to take the proverbial next step, and that turns this game into a chance for atonement. It seems as if the Bruins' defense has been on a fairly steady course of regression as this season has progressed, and Sonny Dykes hopes that's the medicine for his suddenly-stalled offense. Meanwhile, Cal's defense has yet to prove that it can contain a top-shelf Pac-12 offense. We'll probably see plenty of points in Berkeley as these two clubs vie to prove they have a backbone.

Desperation Bowl: Colorado at USC

Let's make it clear that these teams are desperate in completely different ways. The Buffs are 0-3 and just clawing for a single for a Pac-12 win. The Trojans, meanwhile, sport the conference's best record (3-1). Steve Sarkisian's team, though, is starved for consistency. USC should be ecstatic that they escaped Arizona with a win -- Buck Allen (7.9 yards per carry) and Leonard Williams were fantastic. But the on-again, off-again cycle has become far too familiar in Troy, where USC has followed up massive wins with horrendous defensive no-show losses. The Trojans are heavy favorites at home against the Buffs, but a slippery roadie to Salt Lake City awaits, so they'd better find stability now.

Don't forget dessert (diamond in the rough game): Stanford at Arizona State

By the most important statistical accounts, Stanford's defense is the best in the nation (8.8 points per game, 3.6 yards per play). Meanwhile, ASU's offense isn't messing around, either (41.2 points per game, 7.2 yards per play). So this rematch of the 2013 Pac-12 Championship is setting up to be a fun Saturday nightcap. In all likelihood, though, this game will probably be decided by the performance of these teams' struggling halves: Will Stanford's adjusting offense, scoring a conference-worst 26.3 points per game, be able to consistently score against an ASU defense that's giving up a conference-worst 6.1 yards per play? The loser in the desert will face a massive uphill climb in the Pac-12 race.

Blue Chip Battles -- Oct. edition

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
3:30
PM ET
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These aren't necessarily the 10 best remaining uncommitted recruits. Instead, these are the 10 battles we project as being the fiercest between now and signing day. As visits are picking up, some battles have turned more interesting than others and we've added five new names to the board.

To read the full Blue Chip Battles, click here Insider.
So, this past weekend was a little less crazy than the previous one, but it still held plenty of exciting and nomination-worthy plays for this week's Play of the Week.

1. The Big Aristotle

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SportsNation

Who had this week's Play of the Week?

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    38%
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    38%
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    3%
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    16%
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    5%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,922)

At some point we're going to start running out of nicknames if Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson continues to keep coming up with these plays. So Husky fans, feel free to keep sending those in. But on Saturday, Thompson came up huge again for Washington as he was the Husky to find the end zone. He recovered Cal quarterback Jared Goff's fumble at the goal line (though for statistical purposes this was only a 99-yard return since Cal was at second-and-goal at the 1-yard line) and then took it to the house, giving the early lead. Shaq Attack. Shaq Daddy. The Big Aristotle. Shaqness. There's a good chance we're going to need to keep the Thompson nicknames coming for the Pac-12 Blog's Play of the Week.

2. Basketball on grass

Because running in a 23-yard touchdown would just be too easy, right? Right. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota thought he'd just make it a little harder by fumbling, recovering it by himself in stride and then making the 20-yard jaunt into the end zone -- nothing like a little football dribbling to spice things up. Mariota's touchdown gave the Ducks a three-score lead over the Bruins on the road. It was Mariota's second rushing TD of the day and he also accounted for two passing touchdowns. Tallying four touchdowns in one game is pretty insane, but for Mariota, it was his fourth game of the season in which he accounted for four-plus touchdowns. So while that performance might've been keeping to the norm, his dribbling touchdown run certainly was out of the ordinary.

3. Ross-diculous

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That's right, the Huskies get two nods in this week's vote because as good as Thompson's return was, we were pretty impressed with the speed and tackle-breaking abilities of sophomore wide receiver John Ross. His 86-yard receiving touchdown had Bears breaking their ankles and by the time he got to the 40-yard line, it was smooth sailing as he glided into the end zone. It was his fourth receiving touchdown of the season and his first 100-yard receiving game of his career.

4. The Buck Stops Here (... in the end zone)

video Buck Allen's 48-yard touchdown run might not be as flashy as some of the other plays, but that's what makes it so impressive and why he gets a nod with a nomination this week. Allen makes 48-yard touchdown runs look easy. You know just a “Hey, I'm going to run through this scrum of guys, get out untouched because I'm that elusive, and then speed past you into the end zone because you can't catch me.” Yep, he makes it look easy and that's pretty darn impressive.

5. Keeping up with the (Cayleb) Jones ... es

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Even in a losing effort there can be some pretty great plays made -- take Arizona's onside kick recovery against USC last Saturday. The Wildcats were trailing by two, having just failed to convert on a two-point conversion. But they had scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, putting the game within reach. The Wildcats faked the kick to the left side of the field, sent it to the right and then sophomore receiver Cayleb Jones recovered it amidst a scrum of three USC players. Jones' play gave Arizona the ball at the 48-yard line, but more importantly, his play gave the Wildcats the chance to win the game. Though they ended up falling short of that, Jones' play is no less impressive considering how tricky those kicks can be and how quickly that game would've ended if Jones would've missed that.

Pac-12 Show (4 ET)

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
11:53
AM ET
Pac-12 reporters Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller review this past weekend's games, including USC's upset of Arizona, and look ahead to Week 8. They will also answer your questions live on screen.

We live in a world that values entertainment over excellence, so why should the Pac-12 cater to a minority who like their football magisterial and coldly dominant? We call those folks snobs. Antiquated snobs at that. The Pac-12 is of the people, where each team is as likely to go rear-end-over-tea-kettle as it is to win with dramatic and inspired verve.

Heck, the rest of college football is providing a less vivacious version of the Pac-12's entertainment over excellence, in any event. Alabama and all those five-star recruits? It lost to Ole Miss and barely survived against Arkansas. Florida State? Last year, it was Muhammad Ali -- brash, svelte and lethal. This year it's Buster Douglas, distracted and indolent and ripe for the picking, if still holding the championship belt.

There are just six unbeaten teams left -- two reside in the state of Mississippi -- and one unbeaten team will go down Saturday when Notre Dame visits Florida State, with the winner still not likely to be called "perfect" in anything but record. Last year at this point in the season, there were 14 teams without a loss. In 2012, there were 12.

And none of those six play in the Pac-12 after Arizona pulled defeat from the jaws of victory against USC, despite those jaws of victory upchucking opportunity after opportunity on the no-longer-10th-ranked Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota and Royce Freeman
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillIt was way too early to write off Oregon, as UCLA found out Saturday.
Oregon? Remember how the Ducks were summarily dismissed last week after their home loss to the Wildcats? No? Well, it happened. Google it. Those weakling Ducks, however, welcomed back tackle Jake Fisher to their offensive line against UCLA, and the unit transformed from the "Little Rascals" to the "Super Friends." It was as though Fisher walked into the huddle and, just like Adrian provided a perfect inspirational plot segue from her hospital bed after giving birth in "Rocky II," told the other O-lineman, "There's one thing I want you to do for me... block," and offensive line coach Steve Greatwood, playing the role of Mickey, erupted with,"What are we waiting for!" as the adrenaline-churning workout montage music started to play.

The "Rocky" reference is admittedly tortured, but Fisher did get socked by Bruins defensive end Eddie Vanderdoes, who was unhappy Fisher had road-graded him. So, yeah, boxing.

And so the Ducks are back in the top 10, well within striking distance of the College Football Playoff. Just like everyone was saying.

Fisher's next project? Perhaps Middle East peace? Or maybe he needs to get in between Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, whose sideline spat made Twitter go all aflutter.

The Bruins are the latest team to be written off, cast off from the national rankings and dismissed as this season's cautionary tale, filed under "overrated." They have issues everywhere: Fighting coaches, struggling offensive line, underachieving defense and an inconsistent star quarterback in Brett Hundley. And, yet, we'd still probably rank the Bruins as the favorites to win the Pac-12's South Division. As good a choice as any, really. For what that's worth.

UCLA, after all, did beat Arizona State on the road. And Arizona State beat USC on the road. And USC beat Arizona on the road. Ah, but Utah beat UCLA on the road, and Washington State, owner of the conference's worst record, beat Utah on the road. Oh, whatever.

Maybe all this parity -- parody? -- is the fans' fault. Nobody can win at home. Home teams are 4-14 in Pac-12 play. Last year, they were 31-21. In 2012, the record was 29-25. Whatever happened to home cooking?

We've only hit the midseason mark and the "what-ifs" are piling up all over the Pac-12. What if Stanford were just semi-competent in the red zone? What if UCLA and/or Arizona could make a game-winning field goal? What if successful Hail Mary passes were as rare as an Asian crested ibis or a Madagascar pochard? What if Washington State could magically eliminate four plays this season? What if Utah didn't -- apologies, Cougars -- "Coug it" in the fourth against Washington State?

Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre is running into this column screaming, "Hey, the Buffs are outraged, too!" And, to throw out a forward-looking "what if," what if Washington wins at Oregon next weekend, ending a 10-game losing streak?

At this point in Pac-12 play, the sports cliche "on any give day..." has become a statement of fact. No team is invincible and no team is milquetoast. This midseason realization suggests that the team that crawls out of the dust on Dec. 5 after the Pac-12 championship game is more likely to have three losses than one, more likely to be a national afterthought rather than a favorite for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

And yet it's ridiculous to believe we suddenly see things clearly, at home in the Pac-12 or abroad in the MIGHTY SEC WEST (all-caps required, per edict from SEC Dark Lord Mike Slive). Oregon might get healthy and become the contender many foresaw in the preseason. What if Stanford's offense gets out of its own way and pairs with its elite defense? And what if UCLA distills its seeming chaos into an elixir that provokes it to play to its on-paper potential?

Chances are it will be messy, though. There will be fits and starts of great football, but it won't be sustained.

What seems certain is it will be entertaining, if often painful for the emotionally invested. Pac-12 football in 2014 is likely to end up becoming something like that 1980s movie that critics hated but you feel compelled to watch until its conclusion every time you cross it while doing a late-night channel surf.

Power rankings: Big 12 solidly second

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
9:19
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Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBryce Petty and kicker Chris Callahan survived TCU. The teams are part of the top-heavy Big 12.
The “hot” debate entering the season was whether the Pac-12 could surpass the SEC as the top conference in the nation. The Big 12 was rarely mentioned as a top conference, however, despite returning the majority of its starting quarterbacks and having two of the top five defenses in ESPN’s preseason defensive efficiency rankings.

Five of the Big 12’s 10 teams are in the top 15 of The Associated Press poll, tied with the SEC (which has 14 teams) for the most top-15 teams in the nation. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have one or fewer losses and a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.

All of those teams will not finish the season with one loss, but it’s worth noting that two of their losses came in close games against the teams that played for the 2014 BCS National Championship (Auburn defeated Kansas State and Florida State defeated Oklahoma State).

The bottom of the Big 12, however, is not as strong as that of the Pac-12 or SEC. The Big 12’s average FPI ranking, which is designed to measure a conference’s depth, ranks below that of those two conferences.

The SEC remains at the top of the conference power rankings. It has the top team in the AP poll (Mississippi State) and in the FPI (Auburn), the two components of these power rankings. The SEC West remains unbeaten against any team not in the SEC West as the Magnolia State has catapulted to the forefront of the college football world.

The Pac-12 will rise in the conference rankings if its top teams can continue to win. Last week, we discussed how the Pac-12 is missing an elite team. Oregon looked strong against UCLA, and the defenses of Stanford and Washington defenses looked solid against explosive offenses in Week 7. The issue is that the Pac-12 does not have a team in the top eight of the AP poll.

In other conference action, next week is a big one for the ACC as Notre Dame heads to Florida State. The Seminoles are the best team in the ACC, but if they lose to Notre Dame at home, the conference could take a big hit in perceived strength and in the College Football Playoff race.


Pac-12 morning links

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
8:00
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What is this? You're wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that guy.

Leading off

The shakeup in the rankings continues and once again the Pac-12 has a team ranked in single digits after a one-week hiatus.

On the strength of their convincing road win at UCLA, the Ducks are back in the top 10 in both polls, while the Bruins stumbled out of the rankings for the first time since 2012. USC is back in as the L.A. schools continue to ping pong in the rankings.

Kyle Bonagura broke it down here, as he does every Sunday. Here are the Pac-12 teams in the rankings. As always, the AP rank is first, followed by the coaches poll.
  • Oregon 9-9
  • Arizona 16-17
  • Arizona State 17-18
  • Utah 20-23
  • USC 22-25
  • Stanford 23-20

UCLA and Washington are receiving votes in both polls, and the Bruins are the unofficial No. 26 for both. You can see the complete rankings here.

Here's how some folks who cover the conference voted:
And speaking of rankings, the College Football Playoff will reveal the first round of rankings later this month. Here's a quick tuneup on everything you need to know about this brave new world.

Oregon-UCLA reactions

It was billed as one of the biggest games in the Pac-12 this year, but it ended with a thud. Here's what some folks are saying about the battle of ranked teams.

The Ducks understand what a second loss could mean, writes Tyson Alger of the Oregonian.

Also from Alger, does Thomas Tyner's performance point to a more productive Oregon run game?

The Bruins find themselves at a crossroads, writes Jack Wang of the LA Daily News. Here's what Myles Jack had to say about it:
We have to change something that -- maybe the coaches will figure out, or something we’ll figure out. Something’s gotta change.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports still has the Ducks as one of his four playoff teams. His thoughts on the Ducks:
The Ducks are the first team with a loss to crack the top four, thanks to owning a pair of double-digit wins that stack up well against the competition: by 19 over Michigan State and by 12 on the road over the Bruins. If undefeated Baylor had played Oregon’s schedule so far, their record would be no better and perhaps worse.

Some thoughts from Larry Scott on the league's parity. And he said the conference will review the Eddie Vanderdoes punch.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Kyle goes all Cliff Clavin on us.

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