Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is favored to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy this Saturday, and it's clear his popularity stretches far beyond the Pacific Northwest. A class of fifth-graders at the Oxford Preparatory Academy in Chino Valley, California (east of Los Angeles -- wait, shouldn't that be USC or UCLA territory?) is doing its part to push Mariota's Heisman campaign.

According to school dean Cyndi Valenta, every classroom at Oxford is university-themed and professor Connor Berry’s theme is all about “Win the Day” -- which is Oregon football’s motto.

“Marcus Mariota has a reputation for being a good guy,” Berry said. “And the rules in our classroom are to be a good example, so it seemed perfect. ... The kids had a lot of fun with it.”

So there you have it: That’s how the Quack Attack has made its way into a Southern California classroom. Enjoy the video.

From uniforms to locker rooms, the Oregon Ducks are the definition ostentatious.

And so if Marcus Mariota had wanted a Heisman campaign, Marcus Mariota would’ve gotten a Heisman campaign.

In 2001 Oregon dropped $250,000 to put a billboard in New York for quarterback Joey Harrington. Though it certainly grew the brand nationally for the program, it didn’t do too much for Harrington, who finished fourth in Heisman voting.

Harrington’s statistics in the 2001 season pale in comparison to Mariota’s in 2014. Harrington completed just 59 percent of his passes while throwing for 2,764 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota has let his play (38 touchdown passes, 14 rushing touchdowns) serve as his Heisman campaign.
Mariota passed Harrington’s passing yardage and touchdown total a month ago and in only one game this season was Mariota’s completion percentage at or below Harrington’s. Add to that Mariota’s 669 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns and Mariota would’ve deserved billboards in every major market across the country.

But Mariota didn’t want 12 billboards or even one. He enjoys taking photos with fans after games, but that’s really the only place he wants his face … other than beneath a helmet on the football field on Saturdays.

“I really didn’t want all that attention,” Mariota said. “I’m glad that they were able to accept that and respect that decision.”

To be a fly on the wall during those discussions would’ve been interesting. Certainly, Phil Knight and other donors put in their two cents, but like so much this season, Mariota made his decision based on his family and secondly himself, and those two entities wanted nothing done. It’s hard to imagine a 21-year-old saying no to a room of billionaires, but that’s likely exactly what happened.

The closest his non-campaign campaign ever came was a hashtag (#SuperMariota) that some used on social media, but never enough that it truly gained traction. Or when 12-year-old Charlie Pape asked about Mariota’s eventual NFL decision in a postgame news conference a few weeks ago, explaining to coach Mark Helfrich that all that kids at his all-boys school had been discussing were “Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota.”

Or maybe when Mariota hit a strikingly similar pose to the Heisman trophy in the Ducks’ 47-19 win over Oregon State in the Civil War rivalry. Mariota accounted for six touchdowns -- four passing, two rushing.

There is some truth to all of these mini-campaigns. If you watch Mariota play long enough, he’ll do something that doesn’t seem humanly possible for a quarterback. He takes off like a running back, stays in the pocket like he has never been sacked (though, ask his very apologetic offensive line and they’ll sheepishly explain that yes, more than once they’ve allowed Pac-12 pass rushers to get through) and throws the ball better than any current dual-threat quarterback.

He is the most dominant player in college football right now … though he’d be the last to say that. And his campaign has happened the only place it should happen -- on the football field.

Though “Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota” seems a bit drastic, he has become such a hero for so many people in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest that saying he’s “worshiped” by many isn’t too far out of the ballpark.

And his play on the field -- whether he’s striking the pose or not -- has been enough to make him the front runner all season. Players have come in and out of the conversation, but every time Mariota was the one who stuck. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott gave Mariota a good run for his money for a few weeks, as did Georgia running back Todd Gurley. But eventually they dropped off. Mariota has not and will not.

There’s something refreshing to Mariota’s boringly spectacular Heisman season. When the craziest thing that happens to the Heisman front runner during the season is a speeding ticket, it’s almost comical.

But of course, even the ticketing officer liked Mariota.

“Mr. Mariota was polite and respectful. He was professional and took the citation appropriately,” the officer told The Oregonian.

As a football fan, there’s nothing to dislike about Mariota. In a time of self-publicity and easy spotlight, he takes the other route. The one where he doesn’t have a Twitter or a website or any campaign outside of his stat line.

As a writer, though, Mariota has been one of the most difficult athletes to cover. At some point the “nice guy plays well” storyline gets played out. It has been written 100 times.

Mariota has given writers nothing new to write about. Which in today’s news cycle, feels like something new to write about.

This is his award to win because he’s the best player in the country, not because it’s a “quarterback award” or anything else. He didn’t need a billboard or a campaign to tell people that. He needed to put his team in position to play 15 games. And he has done just that.
The Arizona Wildcats can thump their chest all they want … at least for now. They are the Pac-12 South champs until proven otherwise. Just like Arizona State was … before Arizona proved otherwise. Just like UCLA was, before ASU proved otherwise.

Being proven otherwise, however, seems to be turning into an annual tradition in the South, which has had three different winners in the last three years. And if you thought the division was crazy in 2014, hang on, because it might plunge itself deeper into capricious insanity in 2015 and beyond.

"It's anybody's guess," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham when asked to handicap the South next season. "But I have to believe it's one of the toughest divisions in all of college football. It was very close this year, obviously. We had a lot of teams lumped up there at the top. Every year is its own entity and set of circumstances. I can't speak to next year. But right now it's anybody's guess."

[+] EnlargeAnu Solomon
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriQuarterback Anu Solomon will return in 2015 to Pac-12 South champion Arizona, but the division will be wide open.
The South heads into the postseason with five of its six teams ranked in the College Football Playoff Top 25; Arizona (10), UCLA (14), ASU (15), Utah (22) and USC (24). Of course, the North continues to claim the ultimate bragging rights, having won every conference title since the league moved to a divisional format in 2011. This year was no exception with Oregon blasting the ‘Cats in the title game.

But the 2014 season saw a clear power shift within the depth of the conference. For the first time since expansion, the South had a winning record against its northern counterparts, going 15-10.

"The South has definitely resurged," said Stanford coach David Shaw. "Every game against those guys is difficult. Trying to handicap it for next year would be like trying to handicap this year. It's impossible."

Adding to the impossibility is that five of the six teams in the division are likely to return a quarterback with substantial starting experience. Barring any surprise defections, draft declarations or injuries, only UCLA will be without a quarterback with significant time as a starter.

"Once again, that means you are going to see offenses executed extremely well week in and week out," said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team is the only one in the division not ranked in the Top 25. "All the quarterbacks in somehow, someway, have broken records at their school. You're looking at quality players coming back that can score points each Saturday."

Given the Trojans historical success, it seems almost shocking that USC is yet to win a division title. Maybe that changes as the Trojans roster slowly starts to rebuild itself in the post-sanctions era. Maybe not. The trio of previous victors -- all with head coaches who were hired following the 2011 season -- show no indication of slowing down. Plus the Utes are on the rise and Colorado is putting a more competitive product on the field. The Buffs were "in" seven of their nine conference games. Anyone think they are going to be worse next year?

"The thing that can happen is any team in the South can beat any team," MacIntyre said. "I think that's where it's at. We had double-overtime with UCLA and definitely could have won it. We were in there with everyone (in the South) except USC. There's a lot of parity, but there is also high-caliber football."

Meanwhile up North, the divide might be growing. The Ducks will have to find a replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota (oh come on, like it's not going to happen) and we're not exactly sure what we're going to get from the Cardinal. You have to imagine things will be smoother in Year 2 of the Chris Petersen era at Washington, but there will be losses on defense. Shaw pointed to Cal as a team on the rise, but defense will again be a concern. So outside of Oregon, you have to question which North team could do the most damage against the South. Oregon State will have a new coach. Washington State is still rebuilding. The Ducks were the only team up North to be ranked. And even if the Cardinal thump Maryland in their bowl game, the chances of them finishing ranked are slim.

"We've got a lot of guys coming back so I know we'll be in the mix," Shaw said. "But I know this, next year will be as crazy as it was this year. And in the South, I don't know who has the edge. But it's going to be exciting."

That's a safe assumption ... until proven otherwise.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

December, 9, 2014
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The Pac-12 North made for an intriguing recruiting weekend for the conference, as it lost a head coach, gained a handful of commitments and hosted the No. 5 prospect in the country. With the regular season finished, a greater emphasis on recruiting will be felt between now and signing day and the Pac-12 wasted little time making things interesting.

Pac-12 season recruiting superlatives 

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
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It was another entertaining season in the Pac-12, as Oregon made its mark on the North, while the South was largely determined by two Hail Marys. But while fans got their money’s worth from the action on the field, the happenings on the recruiting trail during the year made an impact as well, marked by big commitments, misses and surprises. Here’s a look at the Pac-12 recruiting superlatives, based on events that took place during the season.


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Three reasons why Cal disappointed 

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
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Cal signed three consecutive top-25 recruiting classes from 2010-12, matching Oregon’s efforts on the trail, and positioned itself to challenge the Ducks atop the Pac-12 North. Instead of fighting for a conference title, Jeff Tedford was fired after the 2012 season and current head coach Sonny Dykes is rebuilding the program. What went wrong?


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Pac-12 morning links

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
8:00
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The face of a child can say it all, especially the mouth part of the face.

Leading off

It wasn’t under the current Boise State staff, but there was a time when Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III thought he would end up playing for the Broncos. He played well at their camp and expected an offer, but was ultimately told he was too slow. Shortly after he got that news, Arizona became the only FBS school to extend an offer, which he quickly accepted.

Two years later, he’s been named the best defensive player in college football and is preparing to play Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Wright’s rapid ascent to college football royalty has been one of the best stories in the Pac-12 this season and added another chapter, as Wright is the Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient. He is the first winner from the conference since Arizona State’s Terrell Suggs won in 2002. The only other recipient from the Pac-12 was Arizona’s Rob Waldrop, who won the inaugural award in 1993.

Heisman finalists announced

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon can officially begin preparing to look happy for Marcus Mariota when the Oregon quarterback is named the Heisman Trophy winner. That reaction video gets played for years, guys. Cooper, Gordon and Mariota were officially named finalists for college football’s most prestigious award Monday, but anything but a landslide victory for Mariota would be surprising.

The Pac-12 hasn’t had a Heisman winner since USC’s trio of Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (2004) and Reggie Bush (2005) won the award three times over a four-year period. Oregon has never had a Heisman winner, and the Pacific Northwest has been shutout since Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker won in 1962.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Pretty cool way to honor WSU quarterback Connor Halliday.



Here's an online Holiday card from ASU receiver Jaelen Strong

Happy Holidays. Yall ain't know I really could dance though =-=-

A video posted by STRIZZY (@jaelenstrong21) on

Scooby Wright wins Nagurski award

December, 8, 2014
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Bronko Nagurski award, given to the nation's top college defensive player, on Monday night.

Wright was considered a two-star recruit coming out of high school and said the Wildcats were the only Football Bowl Subdivision school to offer him a scholarship.

The 6-foot-1, 246-pound linebacker used that slight as motivation. He took aim at the rest of the Pac-12, turning in a stellar sophomore season with 89 tackles -- 27 for a loss -- and 14 sacks, helping the Wildcats (No. 10 CFP, No. 12 AP) earn a spot in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl against Boise State.

He became the first underclassman to win the Pac-12 defensive player of the year honor.

He started 12 games as freshman for the Wildcats and had 89 tackles.

To read the rest of this story, click here.
The rumor mill can be an interesting place.

One unsubstantiated rumor can be posted to Twitter and more than 300 retweets later, it is somehow taken as fact. That was the case Sunday night when a Texas-based television reporter gave legs to the idea that Washington State coach Mike Leach would be interested in coaching at Houston.

It never passed the smell test, but weirder things have happened on the coaching carousel, and WSU was forced to address it on Twitter.

When asked by ESPN.com if the report should be taken seriously, WSU athletic director Bill Moos replied, "No. Mike Leach is a Coug and mean Washington State Coug! We are focused on recruiting and growing our program." Added WSU sports information director Bill Stevens, "There is absolutely no truth to any rumors linking Mike Leach to another job." As far as denials go, these were strong. And once WSU shot it down, the fun began.

Yes. Very good.

If that's true, then this would make sense.

And more fictitious #WSURumors continued to roll.

Personal favorite.

Meanwhile, Mike Leach was recruiting in Washington D.C. Here's him with four-star cornerback Marcus Lewis:

.

Oregon's defense is the difference

December, 8, 2014
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Oregon linebacker Derrick Malone realized a long time ago the perception wasn't going to change. Oregon is offense. Offense is Oregon. As much as it's Nike and uniforms, it's also points and tempo.

Defense is merely that thing that happens inbetween drives.

[+] EnlargeDeForest Buckner
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDefensive lineman DeForest Buckner and the Oregon Ducks had a lot to celebrate after beating Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game.
"Always, always, always," Malone said. "It's always about the offense."

There's no contempt when he says it. It's matter-of-fact. Malone understands as well as anyone how special the Ducks are with Marcus Mariota at quarterback. He gets it.

He also knows the reputation is there because of games like the Ducks' first trip to Levi's Stadium when they beat Cal 59-41 on Oct. 24. A widely shared takeaway then was that while Oregon's offense was of the highest caliber, its defense was a potential liability.

Something had to change.

"Ever since then practice is way more intense, everybody is way more focused," Malone said. "We know that every day something is on the line. People counted us out, but we picked our heads up and we're where we are now."

Where they're at is the inaugural College Football Playoff, where a semifinal date with defending national champion Florida State and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston awaits at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

If the defense hadn't improved, the second-ranked Ducks still might be here. The offense is that good. However, in the five games since the win against Cal, the Ducks have turned into the most complete team -- statistically -- in the country.

During that span, only eight FBS teams -- none of them named Alabama, Ohio State or Florida State -- allowed fewer points than the Ducks (17 points per game). They led the nation in points margin (30.6) and yards margin (plus-227) per game and their defense ranked No. 26 overall (336 ypg).

Only Utah cracked 20 points and the Ducks held all five opponents to less than their scoring average. Games that might have remained close earlier in the season turned into routs in a hurry.

The biggest step came against Arizona in the Pac-12 championship on Saturday, when the Ducks allowed just 224 yards in a 51-13 win in their return trip to the Field of Jeans. It was the fewest yards the Ducks allowed in over 50 games, the fewest yards the Wildcats had gained in Rich Rodriguez's three-year tenure and featured just 25 first-half yards for Arizona. Just two months prior, the Wildcats piled up 495 yards in a 31-24 win.

"I'm most proud of our young men because they played their best game in their last game," first-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. "Sometimes you have a great game in the middle of the season and the rest of them are OK. They played their best when their best was needed and I'm the most confident about that."

Mariota hoisted the MVP trophy and clinched the Heisman, but the game was a defensive showcase. DeForest Buckner led the Ducks with seven tackles, but it was complete effort. Fifth-year senior linebacker Tony Washington said they weren't looking for any "statement games," but that's what it was. It sent a message to the rest of college football that this Ducks team can win with either offense or defense, but will probably do it with both.

That balance is a big reason why the Ducks opened as 8.5-point favorites by oddsmakers against the third-ranked Seminoles, who have been favored in 50 consecutive games and won their last 29.

"Those guys always find a way to win," Washington said. "I feel like they get a lot of heat from outside sources talking about how they should have lost or 'Jameis Winston is this' or 'Jameis is that,' but at the same time, he hasn't lost a game yet."

He also hasn't seen a team as complete as Oregon.

Kickoff Extra: Bowl Selection Show

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
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ESPN.com's college football experts Ted Miller, Adam Rittenberg and Mark Schlabach join host Chantel Jennings for a special edition of the Kickoff Show to discuss Sunday's bowl selections and answer your questions.

Stacking up Pac-12 for bowl season

December, 8, 2014
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Oregon will get a crack at the national title as the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff opposite No. 3 Florida State, the defending national champions. Arizona earned a spot in the Vizio Fiesta Bowl against Boise State, which doesn't sound scintillating but earns the Pac-12 an extra $4 million.

Outside of the major bowls, only one of the opponents is ranked in the final CFP rankings (No. 11 Kansas State, which is playing UCLA in the Valero Alamo Bowl), but six Pac-12 foes boast at least nine wins. Nebraska, which is 9-3 and plays USC in the National University Holiday Bowl, is 25th in the AP poll.

Some initial impressions.

College Football Playoff semifinal (Rose Bowl presented by Northwestern Mutual) No. 2 Oregon (12-1) vs. No. 3 Florida State (13-0): This one is pretty simple for Oregon and the Pac-12. The conference wants to win its first national title since 2004, while the Ducks are looking for their first national title, period. So this is all about national validation for both parties.

Meanwhile Florida State is trying to repeat, which would begin talk of a dynastic run under Jimbo Fisher, who could then boost himself up near the top of the list of nation's best coaches. If Mark Helfrich were to bring a national title back to Eugene, he probably would never have to hear about Chip Kelly's shadow again.

Obviously, it's an outstanding matchup of quarterbacks, with last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Florida State's Jameis Winston, squaring off with Marcus Mariota, a heavy favorite to take home the bronze statue on Saturday.

Oregon fans need to be prepared for national pundits to again speculate on how the Ducks will hold up on the line of scrimmage against a big, bad team from the Southeast. But on the optimistic side of things, beating the Seminoles and then, perhaps, Alabama in the national title game would eliminate that narrative forever.

VIZIO Fiesta Bowl No. 10 Arizona (10-3) vs. No. 20 Boise State (11-2): While the Wildcats are thrilled to be playing in a major bowl so close to home, the matchup doesn't provide much juice. Beating the Broncos won't impress many folks, and losing would be a major hit to Arizona's Q-rating.

You'd think the Wildcats will be plenty motivated to avoid that. For one, they looked awful while getting blown out by Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, so they want to wash that taste out of their mouths. A big home crowd should help get their adrenaline flowing.

The extra prep time should help get QB Anu Solomon healthy, as he's been battling a pesky ankle issue for weeks.

While Boise State is a solid 11-2, it doesn't have a marquee victory like it has in most seasons. Its best win came early in the season over Colorado State. The Broncos got drubbed in their season opener by Ole Miss 35-13.

You can expect, of course, that the Broncos will be plenty hungry to take a bite out of a Pac-12 team. Not only that, they want to show the nation that they will be fine post-Chris Petersen under coach Bryan Harsin.

Valero Alamo Bowl No. 14 UCLA (9-3) vs. No. 11 Kansas State (9-3): This is an A-list matchup that both the Pac-12 and Big 12 would really like to win in order to obtain some degree of bragging rights versus the other. Both teams also are coming off disappointing defeats, with the Bruins particularly smarting after they yielded the South Division title by getting blown out by Stanford the final weekend of the regular season.

In fact, this could be a line of demarcation game for UCLA. Win, and it's reasonable to call the season moderately successful (if underwhelming). Lose, and the season is a certifiable failure, at least based on lofty preseason expectations.

It's also UCLA QB Brett Hundley's last game. The season didn't turn out like he wanted, but this is his chance to go out on a high note after he and coach Jim Mora combined to rebuild the Bruins into a contender.

National University Holiday Bowl No. 24 USC (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3): An immediate concern for USC is whether Nebraska picks up some of that juju new coach Mike Riley sometimes had against favored Trojans teams in the past.

It will be interesting to see how both teams react after disappointing seasons. Steve Sarkisian could use a bowl win to quiet some of his vocal critics who gave him less than a one-year honeymoon. Nebraska players were unhappy that Bo Pelini got fired, so they will either play with fire as a tribute to him or show a jaded lack of interest.

As always with USC at the end of the season, it also will be interesting to see how many players announce their NFL intentions after the game.

Foster Farms Bowl Stanford (7-5) vs. Maryland (7-5): Hey, a rare Pac-12-ACC matchup... wait. At the very least, this game will help Pac-12 fans learn that Maryland now plays in the Big Ten.

It has been a trying and disappointing season for Stanford, which has become accustomed to major bowls, but it's also notable that the Cardinal played great in its last two games, dominating California and UCLA. QB Kevin Hogan, particularly, seemed to find his rhythm.

Hyundai Sun Bowl No. 15 Arizona State (9-3) vs. Duke (9-3): This is not where the Sun Devils wanted to be. If they had beaten arch-rival Arizona, it would be them, not the Wildcats, in the Fiesta Bowl playing in front of a home crowd. So El Paso is a few notches below where Todd Graham's team wanted to be.

But they better not take Duke lightly, as they did Texas Tech last year in a dreadful Holiday Bowl performance. While David Cutcliffe's crew suffered a late-season swoon, losing two of their final three games -- just like ASU -- it's looking to finish nationally ranked for a second consecutive season, which doesn't happen often in Durham. At least not in football.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl No. 23 Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2): Hey, it's a Mountain West reunion!

This is a tough matchup for the Utes because the Rams are pretty impressive, though there's also the possibility they could be flat after losing coach Jim McElwain to Florida. Colorado State beat Colorado and Boston College this season, so it's earned a couple of Power 5 scalps already, even if it lost to Air Force the final weekend of the season.

And, of course, Utes coach Kyle Whittingham's name has been buzzing about for some open jobs out there, including Michigan.

Cactus Bowl Washington (8-5) vs. Oklahoma State (6-6): These are two teams trying to salvage disappointing seasons with a bowl win.

The Cowboys had lost five Big 12 games in a row by double-digits before shocking rival Oklahoma on Saturday. Did they find their rhythm, or will that emotional win diminish their focus for this one?

For Washington, first-year coach Chris Peteresen could use a win to remind Huskies fans why they were so excited when he was hired away from Boise State.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 8, 2014
Dec 8
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Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes, really: pressure and time.

Leading off

That sweat on your temples ... that nervousness in your stomach ... that compulsion to clasp all of your fingers together in the shape of an "O" ... that's called playoff fever. And if you cheer for the team in Eugene, Oregon, chances are you've got it.

After months of projections and polls, the first-ever College Football Playoff bracket was announced, and the Oregon Ducks got the No. 2 seed and will play Florida State in a national semifinal at the Rose Bowl.

Here's some reaction: More bowls

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The Arizona Wildcats headline the rest of the Pac-12 bowl slate with an in-state trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where they'll face Boise State. Here's a quick reaction from Rich Rodriguez in a statement from the school:
"I’m really happy for our players, staff and especially our fans. We have a lot of fans and alumni in Phoenix and hopefully everyone else in Tucson can get up there. It should be nice for the players' families, too, because it is a nice time of the year here in Arizona."

Probably doesn't hurt recruiting in the area, either.

Here’s the complete bowl lineup for the conference.
  • No. 22 Utah vs. Colorado State, Saturday, Dec. 20, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
  • No. 15 Arizona State vs. Duke, Saturday, Dec. 27, 'Devil Bowl (just kidding; it’s the Hyundai Sun Bowl).
  • No. 24 USC vs. Nebraska, Saturday, Dec. 27, National University Holiday Bowl
  • Stanford vs. Maryland, Tuesday, Dec. 30, Foster Farms Bowl
  • No. 10 Arizona vs. No. 20 Boise State, Wednesday, Dec. 31, VIZIO Fiesta Bowl
  • No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State, Thursday, Jan. 1, Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern
  • No. 14 UCLA vs. No. 11 Kansas State, Friday, Jan. 2, Valero Alamo Bowl
  • Washington vs. Oklahoma State, Friday, Jan. 2, TicketCity Cactus Bowl
News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Normally, this would be a breakout item, because it's about how the coaches voted in their poll. However, we're putting it in "Just for Fun" because Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was the lone coach not to have Oregon in the top 4. And that's just funny.

Throwback Monday.

 
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS (9-3) VS. UCLA BRUINS (9-3)
JAN. 2, 6:45 P.M. ET, ALAMODOME, SAN ANTONIO (ESPN)


KANSAS STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: On Oct. 18, the Wildcats won a second consecutive game at Oklahoma to solidify their status as a Big 12 title contender. K-State surrendered 533 yards of offense but bowed up with a critical goal-line stand at the end of the game to force Oklahoma into a field goal. The Sooners missed the chip shot, and K-State ran out the clock with a couple of first downs to preserve a 31-30 victory. K-State quarterback Jake Waters had one of the finest games of his career, with 225 yards passing, a 53-yard run and three touchdowns.

Season lowlights: The Wildcats had every opportunity to land the marquee win of the nonconference season. But ultimately, too many uncharacteristic mistakes cost K-State in a 20-14 loss to then-No. 5 Auburn on Sept. 18. Waters fumbled deep in K-State territory, which led to an Auburn field goal, Tyler Lockett allowed a pass to bounce off his chest into the hands of an Auburn defender in the end zone to negate a touchdown, and veteran kicker Jack Cantele missed three field goals. The Wildcats still had a chance to get the ball back in the final minute, but the Tigers converted a third-and-9 to seal the game.

Player to watch: Lockett has been one of the preeminent all-around playmakers in college football the past three years. Late this season, he passed his father Kevin to become the all-time leading receiver in K-State history. He has produced back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and going into the final week of 2014, he led the country in average yards per punt return.

Motivation: The Wildcats don’t want their regular-season-ending loss to Baylor in the pseudo-Big 12 title game to linger by dropping the Alamo Bowl, thus heading into the offseason with two straight defeats. More importantly, K-State will want to send Lockett, Waters, productive defensive end Ryan Mueller and the rest of the senior class out with a win. And the Wildcats can defend the Big 12’s reputation with a win over the Pac-12’s Bruins, adding to the intrigue and motivation for Bill Snyder’s team.
-- Jake Trotter

vs.
UCLA BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: After back-to-back losses seemingly took UCLA out of the Pac-12 South race three games into the conference season, the Bruins roared back. During its five-game winning streak to improve to 9-2, UCLA showed several flashes of the type of team many thought it would be when it began the season ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press poll. The capper was a 38-20 win over USC that made an emphatic statement as to which school “owned” Los Angeles.

Season lowlights: Going into the final game of the regular season, UCLA just needed a win against Stanford to secure the Pac-12 South title and remain in contention for the College Football Playoff. Just a win against an underperforming 6-5 team at home. That’s all. But the Cardinal dominated UCLA in a 31-10 win, preventing the Bruins from obtaining any of their tangible goals.

Player to watch: Quarterback Brett Hundley could have been a first-round NFL draft pick if he left after the 2013 season, but he decided to come back for what he made clear would be a final season at UCLA. He spent the beginning of the season trying to be more comfortable in the pocket, but once the Bruins started losing, he started to rely more on his feet to make plays. The bowl game is a final opportunity to play within his own offense as he tries to impress NFL scouts.

Motivation factor: If the Bruins win their bowl, they would secure the ninth 10-win season in school history. It would also be just the third time in school history that they have notched back-to-back 10-win years. UCLA has never had an 11-win season. With only six scholarship seniors this year, the Bruins are still a young team and any opportunity to develop is of value.
-- Kyle Bonagura
WASHINGTON HUSKIES (8-5) VS. OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (6-6)
JAN. 2, 10:15 P.M. ET, SUN DEVIL STADIUM, TEMPE, ARIZ. (ESPN)

WASHINGTON BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: Washington went 4-2 on the road. Those four wins came against unranked opponents, but to have a winning record on the road, including three Pac-12 victories, is pretty impressive for Chris Petersen’s first season. The Huskies' first road win was a tight one at Hawaii, but things got less stressful from there. They took down Cal 31-7 before recording a 15-point win at Colorado and an 18-point win at Washington State in which Washington held the Cougars scoreless through the first three quarters. That Wazzu win was another big highlight for Huskies fans, as Petersen starts his Washington tenure 1-0 in the Apple Cup.

Season lowlights: The Huskies went 0-5 against ranked opponents, which were their five losses on the season. They kept it close with Arizona (one-point loss) and Stanford (seven-point loss) but lost by an average of 18 points against Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. The offense sputtered in those five losses, scoring just eight touchdowns.

Player to watch: LB Shaq Thompson. … Or LB Hau'oli Kikaha. … Or DL Danny Shelton. That trio was a three-headed monster for the Washington defense. All three were All-Pac-12 first-team selections (Thompson named to both the defensive and special teams). Thompson has four defensive touchdowns -- three returned fumbles and one after an interception. Kikaha has recorded 24 tackles for a loss, including 18 sacks. Shelton has 16.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks (which look ridiculous when directly following Kikaha’s numbers).

Motivation factor: Eight wins is nothing to scoff at, but in some ways, it feels as though the Huskies underachieved this season. Even with their offensive limitations, you would have expected them to win a game against a ranked opponent with the talent they possessed on defense. Washington has one more opportunity to make a statement.
-- Chantel Jennings

vs.
OKLAHOMA STATE BREAKDOWN

Season highlights: A Bedlam win stands out as the clear highlight of a season in which Mike Gundy’s young squad surprised early in the year and disappointed during the final stretch before leaving Norman with a much-needed win. The Cowboys had their struggles but competed, even when the odds were against them, and saw their willingness to fight pay off in Bedlam. Now Oklahoma State gets the chance to kick-start its offseason with a bowl victory.

Season lowlights: Things got ugly when the Cowboys' offense scored three touchdowns in a four-game stretch that took the Pokes from the top half of the conference standings to the bottom half. Oklahoma State, while talented, has revealed its youth time and time again along with a general lack of playmakers on both sides of the ball. A return to Big 12 title contention is currently a dream scenario.

Player to watch: The breakout season from Emmanuel Ogbah has been the highlight for the Cowboys. The sophomore defensive end ranks among the Big 12 leaders in sacks and tackles for loss. Ogbah was held without a tackle for loss in just two games this season, with his length and athleticism becoming a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles. Offensively, all-purpose threat Tyreek Hill can take your breath away with his track speed and explosive nature.

Motivation factor: Oklahoma State wants to show that Bedlam wasn’t just a mirage. A bowl win would go a long way to proving that Gundy’s young Cowboys learned from the program’s worst season since 2007. It would set up a potential rebound season in 2015 with the bulk of the roster set to return.
-- Brandon Chatmon

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
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Friday, 12/26
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Monday, 12/29
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Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
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Monday, 1/12