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STANFORD, Calif. -- Yet another suffocating Stanford defensive performance led the way to a win for the home team on The Farm. Stanford beat Washington State 34-17, leading from start to finish. Stanford has now allowed fewer than 30 points in 29 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation. Louisville and Ole Miss, who own the second-longest streak, have done that in 12 straight games.

How the game was won: Stanford's defense made Washington State scratch and claw for every single yard, buying the Cardinal's inconsistent offense enough time to finally put the hammer down on the scoreboard. Following its least efficient offensive performance since 2006 (3.0 yards per play last week at Notre Dame), Stanford ran a new perimeter-oriented offense that loosened the middle of field and set up Kevin Hogan's early 39-yard touchdown throw to Eric Cotton (above). The Cardinal proved too much for Washington State's struggling defense, leading wire-to-wire.

Game ball goes to: On a night during which Stanford held Washington State's pass-happy offense to 3.3 yards per play, members of the Cardinal defense earn the game ball. We'll have nose tackle David Parry and defensive back Zach Hoffpauir share the honor. Parry frequently ruptured the Cougars' offensive line, and that allowed pressure like the kind Peter Kalambayi displayed to throw Connor Halliday out of whack a week after he comfortably threw for an FBS-record 734 yards (only 292 yards on Friday).

Stanford's cornerbacks delivered press coverage on the edges, and that left a ton of responsibility for Hoffpauir. He delivered in a big way, racking up 15 critical tackles in the open field to limit the Cougars' aerial attack. Stanford put on an open field tackling clinic.

What it means: The Cardinal's defense, which was already leading the nation giving up only 3.7 yards per play coming into the game, continues to assert itself as perhaps the nation's top unit. Stanford still has not lost back-to-back games under coach David Shaw, and the good feelings are back in their locker room behind a 4-2 record (only one conference loss) after a brutal setback against Notre Dame. Given the quality of their defense, the Cardinal certainly still have a shot at the Pac-12 North title, and this win was a mandatory step in that direction.

Washington State drops to 2-5, and that's a stomach punch to the Cougars' postseason chances. They'll now need to win four of their last five games to reach a bowl game again, and that's a tall order with Arizona, USC, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Washington remaining on the schedule.

What's next: For Stanford, all eyes will continue to be fixated on the team's offense as it moves on to ASU. The defense is a proven commodity -- and it's a championship-caliber unit. But the offense, despite showing improvement, continues to play inconsistent football even despite significantly altering its strategy to a more perimeter-oriented approach. The Cougars had great trouble with the Cardinal's broad array of weapons (12 different receivers combined for 23 catches), but penalties and hit-or-miss plays in the red zone kept this game closer than the final yards per play tally would indicate: Stanford 7.0, Washington State 3.3.

The Cougars won't face a defense as good as the Cardinal's the rest of the year, so that's the silver lining for them after a night during which every single one of their yards seemed tough to earn. The task ahead of coach Mike Leach's club is daunting, and the Cougars will only be able to deliver with significant improvements to their porous defense and kick/punt coverage units.

Watch: Lou Holtz' weekly picks

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Oct 10
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video

Lou Holtz makes his predictions for Oregon-UCLA, TCU-Baylor, Auburn-Mississippi State and Ole Miss-Texas A&M.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

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Oct 10
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Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 3:30 p.m. ET for the duration of games like Auburn-Mississippi State, TCU-Baylor and Oregon-UCLA.

In between and after the chats, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPNers scattered throughout the country.

Happy Friday.

This weekend can't possibly be as nutty as last weekend ... could it?

Follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Dominic fro Tucson writes: Now that Oregon and UCLA both have one loss. Both teams were projected to play in the Pac-12 championship and both are playing this Saturday. My question is: Will the loser of the Oregon/UCLA game be left out of the Pac-12 championship game and as a potential playoff contender as well?

Ted Miller: Probably, but maybe not.

The loser of the UCLA-Oregon game will have two Pac-12 defeats at the midseason mark, which isn't good, but a loss won't have tiebreaker impact in either division. As the Bruins have lost to Utah, they would need the Utes to lose two more times to win a South Division tiebreaker (we are not going to even wade into potential three-way ties, etc...). The Ducks' loss to Arizona doesn't hurt them in a North tiebreaker.

The first question: Could 7-2 in Pac-12 play win the North/South Division? Absolutely. Arizona is not only the Pac-12's only undefeated team, it's also the only team undefeated in conference play. But the Wildcats, who play host to USC on Saturday, still have a road date with UCLA, so Arizona's margin for error is only one game if it lost in the Rose Bowl on Nov. 1. As for the North, Oregon will be the division champion if it loses to UCLA but then wins out. So that's pretty simple.

Ergo, if UCLA loses to Oregon but finishes 10-2 overall and 7-2 in Pac-12 play and then bests the Ducks in the Pac-12 title game, I'd rate the Bruins shot as solid to be a candidate for the College Football Playoff. The strength of schedule would be impressive enough to even eclipse a two-loss team from the SEC West, particularly a team like Mississippi State, which played a weak nonconference schedule.

Same for Oregon. The Ducks as Pac-12 champions at 11-2 would have a strong resume, particularly if Michigan State ends up the Big Ten champ at 12-1.

There is so much football left that projecting forward is pretty futile. If you want a confident statement from me, however, here it is: The only Pac-12 teams that you can say are definitely not going to be invited to the CFP are Colorado and Washington State. As no other teams have more than two losses, everyone else seems to still have a mathematical chance.

And, yes, you might use that line from "Dumb and Dumber" to wrap up my thoughts here.


Tom from Seattle writes: I would like to propose a rule that no "official" polls can be conducted until ... until November 1st. With most major programs playing, well, no one in their non-conference schedule, it would seem many of the rankings are based off of last weeks rankings, rather than the state of college football that week. Arizona didn't "jump up," they were as good before they beat Oregon as they were afterward. realistically, the only polls that matter are the final polls anyway, and weekly polls give something for everyone to talk about, but I worry that speculation in September lead to deception in December.

Ted Miller: The College Football Playoff took your advice, pretty much, Tom. It's not releasing its first poll until Oct. 28, and the selection committee has repeatedly claimed it will not be influenced by the existing polls that have been infuriating everyone since August.

You note two important issues with the national polls, though: 1. They tend to stick too much to preseason expectations; 2. People love talking about polls.

The first is the problem inherent within the national polls, and the second is why the national polls continue to exist in their longstanding format. The public loves them.

And, yeah, the media sorta enjoys that Sunday boost when the polls come out and everyone feels compelled to react -- Perfect! Horrible! Conspiracy! -- to what ultimately will be absolutely meaningless within a week or two.


Steve from Los Gatos, Calif., writes: Wasn't this supposed to be the year that Stanford's offense brought back the stud TE glory days? What happened?

Ted Miller: Yes. And the production at tight end thus far is notably better than 2013. Austin Hooper's 15 receptions for 189 yards with a touchdown is already better than what the Cardinal got from the position last season, and Eric Cotton's four receptions for 72 yards sets him up to eclipse the total production from the position last season, too.

But, no, it's not like the days of Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, three current NFL starters. That troika might be difficult to duplicate over the next 100 or so seasons. And, yes, it's concerning that tight ends didn't catch a pass against Notre Dame.

The problem is not tight end, though. It's the Stanford offense as a whole. The offensive line has been underwhelming and quarterback Kevin Hogan hasn't taken a step forward as a third-year starter. The redzone offense, you might have heard, has been particularly awful.

With the talent on hand, particularly at receiver, the Cardinal offense should be better than it has been through five games, and if we are folks who believe the buck stops with the leadership, then head coach David Shaw, who calls the plays, and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren, also share significant blame.

Stanford's offensive mediocrity, in other words, has been a total team effort. And a total team effort -- and maybe a little flexibility in terms of adhering to an identity -- is the only way to solve the problem.


Matt from San Jose writes: Why has Jared Goff been getting ZERO recognition from the media for the job he has done in year 2 as Cal's QB? I know the 4Pac have been talking him up in recent weeks, but there is no national recognition. He's been spurned for player of the week a couple of times, and his numbers are off the charts, yet he doesn't even have a single vote or any consideration on the Heisman tracker. Come on, 22 TDs to 3 picks (two of which were drops by the WRs) is pretty freakin' impressive, along with a 4-1 record, which could just as easily be 5-0. Interested to hear your guys' thoughts on the matter.

Ted Miller: Well, there's this from Kyle Bonagura this week. And Goff's rating in ESPN.com's Total QBR is notable.

And there's this. And our friends at the California Golden Blogs posted this headline: "Jared Goff Starts to Garner National Attention."

But, yes, Goff has yet to make a dent in the national Heisman trackers. There is a good reason for that, though. His team went 1-11 last season, and folks are only starting to raise an eyebrow at Cal's surprising 4-1 start.

If Goff continues to rate in the top-five in QBR and continues to put up big passing numbers and Cal continues to win games, he'll start to get more national attention. In fact, if he plays a key role in the Bears winning two of their next three home games -- Washington, UCLA and Oregon -- I'd guess he'd start to get plenty of national acclaim.

And there also would be an NFL scout or two raising an eyebrow.


Tim from Atlanta writes: I wonder if the extent of Oregon's defensive troubles have been at least a bit exaggerated ... WSU and Arizona have proven to be very good offensive teams, and the MSU offense has looked pretty impressive since leaving eugene. Before Armstead got hurt against AZ, the ducks had given up 3 points. and really, giving up 31 to WSU in pullman (albeit missed-PI aided) isn't THAT BAD. The O-Liine's struggles the last 2 weeks seem to be a much greater concern, as oregon should be able to win games giving up 31 to a team that just gave up 45 to Cal the game before. Seems the D is taking the fall for the O's poor performances the last 2 games.

Ted Miller: I agree to some extent. I definitely think the Ducks' biggest problem is the offensive line. I also think if offensive tackle Jake Fisher were healthy, the Ducks would be unbeaten and no one would be talking about sack numbers.

Another absolutely irrelevant observation: If the Ducks' projected starting offensive line -- including Fisher and tackle Tyler Johnstone -- was injury-free, the Ducks would be an overwhelming No. 1 right now and the Heisman Trophy discussion would pretty much be over.

"If only..." again, is a pretty stupid exercise in sports or just about anything else. But I thought I'd type that to make some Ducks feel better.

My perception of the Ducks' defense is there have been more obvious breakdowns compared to past years. When coach Mark Helfrich talked to Chantel Jennings about "miscommunication" being an issue, I thought about how good a communicator former coordinator Nick Aliotti was.

To me, "miscommunication" means coaches aren't getting their message across to players. That falls on the coaches.

Yet your larger point about the Ducks facing a number of top-flight offenses so far is valid. It's also fair to note we should expect some growing pains when you change coordinators, even if continuity was one of the biggest reason to promote Don Pellum instead of, say, hiring Clancy Pendergast.

It's too early to deliver a verdict on the Ducks' defense, just as it's way too early to deliver a verdict on Helfrich's second season. Let's see how things stack up when the calendar flips into December.


Ross from Portland writes: This is for Erik McKinney and all Pac-12 Blog Staff: So there I was, drinking my favorite Oregon Micro Beer, Black Butte Porter, and reading the Pac-12 Blog... And then I started to read Erik McKinney's Piece- "Ducks finding recruiting success by heading south." And all was fine, until I took a drink while reading the paragraph below..."Oregon's annual trip to Southern California will take place Saturday, and recruits in the area will flock to the game -- of course, UCLA's rise and recruiting prowess has plenty to do with that as well. But a visit from the Ducks is akin to the circus coming to town, billboards and all. "And so, I busted out laughing hard, when he wrote, "the Ducks is akin to the circus coming to town...". Problem is, my mouth was still all full of Oregon's finest. And I ended up spitting, actually spraying, my whole entire computer screen, wall and whole desk, from laughter while drinking the beer. Note to self: Never drink any liquids while reading the Pac-12 blog. Doing so may erupt much laughter, erupt much liquid, and create a big mess.

Ted Miller: Ross, Kevin has patented the "Gemmell Grabber" (TM) -- "Reading the Pac-12 blog ... well then expect to expectorate! -- and I'm sure he'd send you one for the very low price of $99.95.

It's a retractable computer shield that uses Bluetooth technology and a handy iPhone AP. As a bonus, it comes shaped like your favorite Pac-12 defensive back sporting his home uniform.

And if you order now, you'll get a copy of my bestseller, "Pac-12 Predictions: I guarantee [insert your team] wins this weekend!"
Here are five things to watch for in Friday night's Washington State-Stanford matchup:

Are the Cougars ready for Stanford's pass rush?

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
AP Photo/Dean HareGetting rid of the ball quickly will be key for Connor Halliday to avoid Stanford's pass rush.
Last year, they weren't, especially during the four-minute stretch of hell that Stanford imposed early in the third quarter. The score was a reasonable 17-3 when the flurry started. In the blink of an eye, Stanford hurt two quarterbacks, returned two interceptions for touchdowns and made it 38-3. The rout was on, and it all happened insanely quickly because Stanford's front seven had turned the Washington State offensive line into a sieve.

The Cougars think their line is better this year, and Cardinal coach David Shaw noted that WSU quarterback Connor Halliday is making his reads and releasing the ball more quickly this time around.

"I doubt we'll hit him as much as last year," Shaw said. "They were running a lot of deeper routes last year, and he was holding the ball longer. He's got a lot more confidence this year. He's on the same page as all of his guys now."

Shaw's analysis must be true for Washington State to have a chance in this game. Because a successful run game is the best way to neutralize Stanford's vicious pass rush, ground-averse teams like the Cougars are typically at a disadvantage against the Cardinal. That was certainly the case last year, and Halliday will have to be fast and perfect to make this go-around different.

Will the Stanford offense show signs of life?

The Cardinal posted their least efficient offensive performance of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era at Notre Dame on Saturday (3.0 yards per play, 1.5 yards per rush). They have already lost two games this season because of offensive ineptitude of some sort; against USC, Stanford scored only 10 points on nine trips to or past the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Long story short: Matters in the land that Andrew Luck used to roam have gotten really bad.

But Washington State's defense hasn't been good either, and the Cardinal see this game as potential offensive medicine. Cal racked up 60 points against the Cougars last week, and Stanford still remembers its excellent all-around performance against Wazzu last year (322 passing yards, 6.0 yards per carry).

If the Cardinal are finally able to establish a consistent running game (that's been an issue this year), the Cougars are in trouble. If not, Wazzu's aggressive pass rush can test a shaky Kevin Hogan (it sacked Marcus Mariota seven times), and that's where this game can become interesting.

The obvious matchup

Tonight's game features, statistically, the nation's best defense (Stanford allows only 3.7 yards per play) against a Football Bowl Subdivision record-setting Washington State offense, fresh off Halliday's historic 734-yard performance at Cal last week. Needless to say, this is a battle between two high-quality units that should make for a compelling watch.

Wazzu kick coverage

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStanford's Ty Montgomery is one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country.
The 60 points the Cougars surrendered last week weren't all on their defense. Cal's Trevor Davis returned consecutive kick returns for touchdowns against Washington State, and that led Mike Leach to fire special-teams coordinator Eric Russell on Monday.

Wazzu is scrambling to assemble a competent plan in kick coverage this week, as Stanford's Ty Montgomery may be the best returner in the nation. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season and has come close to doing so on multiple occasions this year. As a two-touchdown underdog, the Cougars can't afford any more lapses in coverage.

Kickers

In the past, kicking failures have proved to be a painful Friday night theme, and both Stanford and Washington State have had issues in this phase of the game. Quentin Breshears' missed 19-yard field goal doomed Washington State in last week's 60-59 loss to Cal. Meanwhile, Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson has made only four of his eight attempts this season, and a poor snap in the rain last week proved extremely costly to the Cardinal.
Decommitments are now as much a part of recruiting as official visits and signing day. Each year virtually every program sustains its share of decommitments and does everything it can to flip recruits committed to other schools. Most of the time, the school losing the commitment can rebound quickly, either in that class or the next, and fill the void caused by the switch.

Once signing day arrives, the hand wringing over decommitments usually fades away, as coaches do everything they can to talk about the recruits who signed, rather than the ones who got away. And in the big picture, a recruit is never fully committed until he arrives on campus.

[+] EnlargeShaq Thompson
Jesse Beals/Icon SMICal's class of talented receivers will take on the Huskies and one-time Golden Bears pledge Shaq Thompson.
Occasionally, a decommitment can lead fans down a rabbit hole of "what-ifs?" that can be fun or heart wrenching -- or both -- to imagine. What if Oregon held onto commitments from both Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel? What if former Washington running back Chris Polk kept his pledge to USC? What if UCLA had junior college transfers Dominick Jackson and Jermaine Eluemunor to help along the offensive line this season?

But one of the biggest "what-if?" scenarios in the Pac-12 will play out this weekend, when the Washington Huskies, including do-it-all star Shaq Thompson, visit the California Golden Bears.

When Todd Graham first arrived at Arizona State, among the first things he asked his football players to do was think of a person who had been a major influence in their career. Then he told each player to find a picture of that person and hang it on the front of their locker, offering a daily visual reminder of who it as they were playing for.

Not too long ago, as news swirled about Ray Rice and other incidents of domestic violence, quarterback Taylor Kelly looked around the locker and noticed a trend – the vast majority of his teammates had hung a picture of a woman.

“A mom, a grandma, a sister,” Kelly said.

It got Kelly, and a group of other seniors that serve as the Sun Devils’ leadership council, to thinking: What if they took Graham’s idea and tweaked it to send a message?

So began a simple yet powerful stand against domestic violence -- Arizona State’s version of #ItsOnUs .

Each football player was given a piece of paper that read at the top: I pledge to stop domestic violence because … Each player filled in the blank.

Some took their messages back to their dorm rooms or left them in the locker room. But many took the pledges a step further. They stood before a camera, pledge in hand, and then posted the pictures on various forms of social media.

Some are on players’ personal Twitter and Instagram accounts. Many are on the team’s Twitter page, @footballasu.



Kelly said the players were all eager to participate, recognizing not only their ability to impact others, but also the importance of putting meaning to their private testimonies.

“The more you hear something, over and over, the more of an impact it has,’’ he said. “We figured, why not take it a step further and write it down? Then you really own it."

The Sun Devils are hoping that the idea catches on, not just with other teams on campus, but hopefully with other programs across the country.
The College Football Playoff picture became much cloudier after Week 6. Four days later, the Heisman Trophy race is suddenly wide-open.

Nothing had stopped Todd Gurley this season. The Georgia running back either ran past or through anyone in his way, racking up 773 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. While Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, Notre Dame's Everett Golson and others started making their moves, there was a sense nothing would stop the Bulldogs running back from hoisting the Heisman in December.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDak Prescott could make a leap in the Heisman Trophy race with another big game against a top opponent, Auburn.
Unfortunately for Gurley, he might have stopped himself. Gurley's indefinite suspension for alleged NCAA rules violations means that at least for now, he is out of the Heisman picture. Regardless of the reason for the suspension or whether it's justified, national awards aren't given to those who don't play.

It's a situation nobody wants to see as Gurley has been not only one of the nation's most exciting players, but one of its best. The games go on, however, and the spotlight now shifts to other stars.

Prescott's stock is soaring after Mississippi State's win against Texas A&M, and he has another national showcase opportunity this week against Auburn, which has its own Heisman contender in quarterback Nick Marshall. Golson played hero last week against Stanford, firing his 13th touchdown pass of the season with 1:01 to play to beat the Cardinal. Oregon's Marcus Mariota backslid in last week's loss to Arizona, but Gurley's suspension gives him another chance.

Gurley had headlined a running back renaissance in the Heisman race this season, but others now must carry the baton. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon has 693 rushing yards in his past three games and should have another huge day Saturday against Illinois. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah struggled last week against Michigan State, but shouldn't be written off.

As for Gurley, unless the suspension is brief, he'll fall behind quickly in the Heisman picture. Georgia begins life without No. 3 by playing arguably its most important game of the season Saturday at defending SEC East champion Missouri. The Bulldogs will have to push the pass more and rely on younger backs such as Nick Chubb.

Gurley had the name recognition, the highlights and the production to become just the second nonquarterback since 1999 to win the Heisman. There's no longer an alpha Dawg in the race, and other candidates are now poised to make their moves.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

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This week provided easy selections for the top three visit weekends in the Pac-12, as there are only three conference games on Saturday. All eyes in the conference will be focused on Oregon's visit to UCLA, and recruits are no different, as there will be an impressive group at the Rose Bowl. Elsewhere, Arizona and Cal host statement games against USC and Washington, respectively. Tucson will be home to a huge recruiting weekend, while Cal will have a key recruit in attendance as well.

1. UCLA

[+] EnlargeSoso Jamabo
Tom Hauck for Student SportsOne of UCLA's top prospects, Soso Jamabo, will be in Los Angeles to watch the Bruins take on Oregon.
ESPN 300 running back Soso Jamabo will be on an official visit to Westwood this weekend, as the No. 32 overall prospect likely ranks as the most important official visitor the Bruins have hosted this season. Though Jamabo has several Texas schools hot on his trail, he is taking a long look at Pac-12 programs such as Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA. The Bruins will have the first opportunity among conference teams to make an impression on Jamabo, and the 6-foot-2, 206-pound versatile back would be one of the biggest recruiting wins during Jim Mora's UCLA tenure.

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Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 7

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So, last Saturday wasn't boring or anything. Let's do it again.

Friday, 6 p.m.

Washington State at No. 25 Stanford, ESPN

In one four-minute stretch of fury against the Cougars last year, the Cardinal turned a 17-3 lead into a 38-3 advantage. Stanford's ferocious pass rush hurt two Washington State quarterbacks and delivered a pair of pick-sixes in that span. There's hope coming out of Pullman that the offensive line has improved for this go-round, and that optimism will certainly be put to the test in this Friday rematch. Tune into see how Connor Halliday, fresh off an FBS-record 734-yard game, fares against Stanford's No. 1-rated defense (the Cardinal are allowing a nation-best 4.4 yards per play). Also, keep an eye on that struggling Stanford offense, which is desperate to get back on track.

Saturday

12:30 p.m.

Oregon at UCLA, Fox

This is obviously the weekend's marquee matchup, and it promises to be entertaining. Both the Bruins and the Ducks feature playmaking quarterbacks, struggling offensive lines and inconsistent defenses. That's a formula for absolute mayhem on the hallowed turf of the Rose Bowl. There will be an air of desperation here, too, as both teams are coming off losses. This may not technically be a College Football Playoff elimination game, but the loser will certainly feel like a long shot to make the inaugural four-team tournament. That puts the onus on Brett Hundley and Marcus Mariota to deliver in this heavyweight fight. Of course, unheralded players will play a key role, too.

3 p.m.

Washington at Cal, Pac-12 Network

Now the Bears have a chance to test the extent of their resurgence. At 4-1 overall, Cal is in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North. Their two conference wins, though, have come against the league's lower tier (Colorado, Washington State). A victory against 4-1 Washington marks the clear next step in Sonny Dykes' plan to bring the Bears along. Jared Goff (22 touchdowns, three interceptions) has been fantastic, and he should be able to find leverage against a Husky secondary that gave up 475 passing yards to Eastern Washington. But Chris Petersen's athletic front seven will ensure that this won't be a cakewalk for Goff. The Dawgs will bring the heat. On the other side of the ball, both the Washington offense and Cal defense are desperate to show improvement. Does one of those units win that battle, or does this turn into yet another shootout that short-circuits the scoreboard?

7:30 p.m.

USC at Arizona, ESPN2

This season's second Hail Mary victim meets its first Hail Mary beneficiary to conclude Saturday night in the desert. At 5-0, the Wildcats are the Pac-12's only remaining unbeaten team, and they have a chance to attain bowl eligibility with a win. USC's defense, meanwhile, should be eager to earn redemption following a late collapse and breakdown against ASU. That sets up an intriguing battle for Arizona youngsters Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson, who both played well beyond their years in last Thursday's 31-24 road win over Oregon. A week ago, many might have expected a deluge of points from this game, but Scooby Wright is the leading the charge of an underrated Wildcats defense, so perhaps that side of the ball will ultimately determine the flow of this one.

Pac-12 morning links

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Happy Friday!

Leading off

Sooooo... about our picks last week. Ahem, cough, cough. The Pac-12 blog would like to take this opportunity to apologize to you and any loved ones we might have hurt or offended with our whifferific predictions from last week. And for those overflowing with schadenfraude, bring it. We deserve it.

But it's a new week with a new set of picks. And as we do every Friday morning, here's a look at some of this week's picks from folks who cover the conference. The Pac-12 blog's picks went up Thursday morning.

Here's a sampling of what some other folks have to say:

Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman Review is also looking to rebound from a bumpy Week 6. Here's his take on the UCLA-Oregon game:
Somehow, this battle of the Pac-12’s most mobile QBs could end up being the conference game with the most overall sacks. The Ducks take the first step toward getting back in the college football playoff picture. Oregon 43-31

Christian Caple of the News Tribune likes the Wildcats to keep rolling.

The Athlon folks are all in agreement that Stanford will win.

Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel of FoxSports both like the Bruins.

New top Bear?

Thursday marked 100 days since former California Athletic Director Sandy Barbour stepped down. And Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News saw a good opportunity to look at how the search for a permanent athletic director is going.

Wilner lays out six possible names, with the stipulation that these are just his opinion and he does not believe Cal has contacted any of them.

Kevin Anderson -- sitting AD at Maryland

Tom Bowen -- current Memphis AD

Chris Del Conte -- current TCU athletic director

Solly Fulp -- current Cal deputy athletic diretor/COO

Mark Stephens -- former Cal player and associate AD

H. Michael Williams -- current interim AD

Wilner's take on Williams:
Upon being named interim AD in June, Williams indicated that he was not a candidate for the permanent job. Suffice it to say, things have changed. Williams wants the job and is viewed as a strong contender (such that there is a strong contender at this point). Remember: Barely a year into his tenure, chancellor Nicholas Dirks handed the interim gig to Williams. It would be easy for Dirks to stay the course, especially with football on the rebound on the field and in the classroom.

Make sure to read the whole piece. Some good theories in there.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

The USC Song Girls explain some football rules. And let's be honest, we could all use a little brushing up.

Mike Leach and the Cougars had a special visitor at last night's team dinner.

1. Which Pac-12 quarterback will have the most impressive game this weekend?

  • Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I’m going with Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon. I’m guessing he looks even better than he did last Thursday against Oregon. USC’s defense has struggled mightily at different moments against the pass and run this year, and I think Solomon -- even though he’s just a redshirt freshman -- is going to be able to exploit the Trojans defense and put up some big numbers. But, the quarterback I’m most intrigued to see is Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday against the vaunted Stanford defense. Halliday threw for 184 yards, no touchdowns and one interception last season against the Cardinal. Interested to see how much further along this offense can be against this Stanford defense in just one year.
  • Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: When we're talking most impressive, the caliber of the opponent and significance of the game plays a big role. I fully expect Oregon's Marcus Mariota to help the Ducks rebound from last week's disappointing loss to Arizona with a big game at the Rose Bowl. Using logic or stats to project what happens in the Pac-12 these days has become somewhat of an exercise in futility, so I'm not even going to justify the Mariota pick beyond calling it a gut feeling.
2. Of all the nonconference games we saw this season, which would you want to be replayed in Week 7?

  • Jennings: I was going to say Michigan State-Oregon because I think the Spartans defense has finally come into its own (it’s hard to be totally jelled as a defensive unit in Week 2) but with the state of Oregon’s O-line right now, I just don’t know about that matchup. So I’ll go with UCLA-Virginia. That was just such a bizarre opening game for the Bruins and I’d like to see what that kind of a matchup would look like in Week 7.
  • [+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
    AP Photo/Dean HareAgainst Stanford, how will Connor Halliday follow up his 734-yard performance?
    Bonagura: Washington State vs. Rutgers is a game every Pac-12 fan should want a do-over from because of the effect it could potentially have on the perceived strength of the conference. Washington State nearly had the game on ice against the Scarlet Knights before a botched punt return breathed life back into Rutgers, which now stands at 5-1. If Rutgers goes on to finish with a respectable Big Ten record, Washington State -- like last year against Auburn -- can only play the only-if game.
3. Which team ends Arizona’s undefeated streak?

  • Jennings: Wazzu.
  • Bonagura: Colorado ... and only because that would be the fitting game for it to happen.
4. Who has your midseason vote for coach of the year?

  • Jennings: This is tough. For me, it’s between Sonny Dykes and Rich Rodriguez. If we’re just talking about the midway point, Rodriguez is the only coach in the conference who has led his team to an undefeated season so far. He has the Wildcats ranked 10th in the country, the highest of any Pac-12 team. But I also think we can’t overlook the job that Dykes has done with Cal. To take a one-win team and have them within a Hail Mary of being undefeated right now? That’s just crazy. The Bears are without a doubt the most improved team, so, I’m going to have to tip my hat to Dykes. But Rich Rod is a close second.
  • Bonagura: Yeah, it has to be Dykes. To go from where they were to where they are is nothing short of remarkable.
5. Of all the Pac-12 road wins last weekend, which do you think -- going forward -- will mean the most to that team?

  • Jennings: Utah. With all of the other road wins, there was a bit of talk that it could happen. Maybe Arizona State would take down a Jekyll-and-Hyde USC. Arizona had beaten Oregon before. But Utah over UCLA? Please. No one saw that coming. The Utes had already proven they could win on the road, but this was a national statement win. And that’s huge for Kyle Whittingham’s program, which needed a signature win. This was it.
  • Bonagura: Arizona's victory at Oregon, arguably the toughest place to play in the conference, vaulted the Wildcats from the obscurity of the AP poll's "others receiving votes" to No. 10 in the country. Arizona might have beaten Oregon last year, but because it was so late in the season, that win didn't carry the same turning point type of feel this one has the potential to have.
6. What's the Pac-12's theme song this year?

  • Jennings: "Thriller,: Michael Jackson. A) First line: “It’s close to midnight” -- that’s when a bunch of Pac-12 games feel like they start. B) “They're out to get you, there's demons closing in on every side” -- Some Pac-12 quarterbacks know how that feels. C) And to describe this season as anything other than thrilling is selling it short.
  • Bonagura: "Surprise," Gnarls Barkley. I've never heard this song before today, but the lyrics include "don't be surprised" 14 times. One for each of the mostly unpredictable 14 conference games this year.
Saturday's showdown between UCLA and Oregon will feature playmakers galore. From Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley to Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Eric Kendricks (and Hroniss Grasu and Myles Jack and Arik Armstead and Eddie Vanderdoes, etc., etc.) there won’t be a lack of future NFL talent at the Rose Bowl.

They say big players make big plays in big games. OK, but football games are rarely won by one player. Sometimes it’s the under-the-radar guys who make the biggest impact. Here are three players from each team who might not be as well known, but could end up making a big difference in the outcome.

OREGON

WR Darren Carrington: With just nine catches for 172 yards, the speedy Carrington is yet to have a breakout game. This could be it. Devon Allen has drawn plenty of attention. And with Byron Marshall listed as a wide receiver this week, it could open the door for Carrington to have some one-on-one coverage. Remember, we’re looking at someone under the radar, and that’s exactly where Carrington is flying right now. He has a ton of explosive potential and if he’s not accounted for, he could bite the Bruins.

WR/Splt: Charles Nelson: We’re tapping Nelson not for what he does in the receiving game (just three catches for 27 yards), but for what he does on special teams. He leads the Ducks with an average of 15 yards per return … including a 50-yard touchdown in the win over South Dakota. But he’s also one of Oregon’s best gunners in coverage -- and that’s going to be of note against a dangerous return team like UCLA. Nelson is one of those guys who could quietly help dictate the field position battle, having already posted a team-high 10 special-teams tackles.

S Tyree Robinson: He stepped up big in the Michigan State win with five solo tackles. And it looks like he’s the new option ahead of Dior Mathis when Oregon goes into its nickel package. Erick Dargan moves over to corner and Robinson steps in at safety alongside Reggie Daniels. He’s already seen significant playing time and is being rewarded with more by the coaching staff. UCLA isn’t shy about spreading things out offensively, so the Ducks will likely be in nickel several times throughout the game. Look for Robinson to make an impact in both ground and air defense.

UCLA

NT Kenny Clark: Already with 27 tackles on the year, including two for loss, the sophomore is emerging as one of the top defensive linemen in the country. But nose tackles don’t always get the ink. At 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, he has the size and power to command multiple blockers in UCLA’s odd-front scheme. Given the state of Oregon’s offensive line, he could be the difference-maker in the trenches. Fun sidebar to this game will also be watching Clark and Grasu when it’s straight up, one-on-one. One will be playing on Sundays next year, the other won’t be too far behind.

WR Thomas Duarte: He’s officially listed as a receiver, though he’s a hybrid tight end, which is why he’s on the Mackey Award watch list. There are more explosive receivers, but few as reliable. Duarte has been targeted 15 times this year and hauled in 13 of those – including a pair of touchdowns. And of his 265 receiving yards, 110 have come after the catch. The Ducks will certainly be keeping an eye on him. He caught the only touchdown against Oregon in their meeting last year. Look for him on third downs and in the red zone.

DB Anthony Jefferson: Ishmael Adams gets plenty of recognition for what he does in the secondary. But Jefferson, the old man of the group, is the guy who keeps the youngsters in line. So far he’s posted 20 tackles on the year, including an interception in the ASU game. Oregon ranks first in the conference in pass efficiency, with Marcus Mariota completing 71.1 percent of his throws for 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. His accuracy will put a strain on UCLA’s defensive backfield, so the Bruins will look to Jefferson to hold things together.
Little more than a decade ago, the Oregon football program grabbed attention from across the country thanks to a number of large, and not entirely inexpensive, billboards. From Joey Harrington in New York City to Rashad Bauman in San Francisco to Maurice Morris in Los Angeles, the Ducks were looking for a way to make an impression on the impressionable -- namely, high school football recruits.

The Ducks double-dipped in Los Angeles, following up the Morris billboard one year later, in 2002, with another one that depicted three Oregon wide receivers -- Keenan Howry, Samie Parker and Jason Willis -- on the side of the Figueroa Hotel, less than three miles from the USC campus.

Fast forward 12 years and the idea of Oregon needing to rent advertising space in Southern California -- or anywhere in the country, for that matter -- to make an impact with recruits seems laughable. Instead, the Ducks found a way to become a billboard in 2006, unleashing an astounding 384 possible uniform combinations -- a number that would balloon to 512 by the end of the season. Opposing fans couldn't take them seriously. Recruits couldn't get enough. And with that, the Ducks had their hook with every prospect in the country.

"I heard about Oregon mainly because of the jerseys," said 2015 Oregon quarterback commit Travis Waller. "It's all about the jerseys and the flash, but kids these days are attracted to that. [Oregon doesn't] need to explain itself. Everyone knows who Oregon is now."

Five-star quarterback Torrance Gibson, the No. 12 prospect in the country and someone who has not been heavily recruited by the Ducks, was recently asked via Twitter, which college team had the best uniforms.

"Hands down 'Oregon,'" Gibson tweeted.

But while the uniforms served as an icebreaker for virtually any prospect in the country, Southern California has always been the point of emphasis for Pac-12 programs, including Oregon. The Ducks' run to the top of the Pac-12 came largely on the back of Southern California prospects, and specifically those who were overlooked by UCLA and USC. Standouts such as Terrence Whitehead, Terrell Jackson, Patrick Chung, Walter Thurmond, Jerome Boyd, Jeremiah Johnson and Brian Paysinger all joined the Ducks from 2003-05 and were lightly, or not at all, recruited by the hometown Bruins and Trojans. Of course, there were occasional recruiting victories over the then-Pac-10 powers, as Oregon beat both for A.J. Tuitele in the 2003 class and topped the Trojans for Jaison Williams and the Bruins for Geoffrey Schwartz in 2004.

Starting in 2007, when Chip Kelly took over as offensive coordinator and the Blur Offense was installed, it was no longer just the uniforms that had recruits' attention. Speed became synonymous with the Ducks and Oregon became a coveted offer nationwide. While the Ducks continued to pluck under-recruited prospects from Southern California, they began connecting on a larger percentage of Southern California prospects sought by UCLA and USC, headlined by the signing-day steal of De'Anthony Thomas from the Trojans in 2011. On the roster that will head to the Rose Bowl this weekend, for every Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- who didn't receive an offer from either Los Angeles program -- there's a Royce Freeman -- offered early and coveted by both. Hroniss Grasu, Derrick Malone, Darren Carrington, Rodney Hardrick, Tony Washington and Joe Walker all signed with Oregon without offers from the local schools. Tyree Robinson, Glen Ihenacho, Cameron Hunt and Austin Maloata -- along with Arik Armstead, Byron Marshall from Northern California -- were all important recruiting victories for the Ducks over either the Trojans or Bruins, or both.

There is some chatter in the area that Oregon's national focus is taking them away from Southern California a bit, but others are quick to point to defensive coordinator Don Pellum's long history at Oregon and recruiting the area as a sign that the Ducks will never stray too far.

The 2015 class is a fairly strong illustration of where the Ducks likely see themselves sitting comfortably as far as recruiting nationally. Their top two commitments are from Missouri and Georgia, both coveted by virtually every program in the country. But five of the Ducks 13 commitments are from the Southern California area and two ESPN 300 commitments -- guard Zach Okun and athlete Malik Lovette -- were significant targets for the Bruins and Trojans, respectively. Beyond the commitments, Oregon is swinging for the fences with the rest of its targets. Defensive tackle Rasheem Green, defensive end Keisean Lucier-South and inside linebacker John Houston Jr. -- the Nos. 4, 5 and 9 players in the state -- will all take official visits to Eugene this year, while safety Marvell Tell, the No. 12 prospect, has already visited.

Oregon's annual trip to Southern California will take place Saturday, and recruits in the area will flock to the game -- of course, UCLA's rise and recruiting prowess has plenty to do with that as well. But a visit from the Ducks is akin to the circus coming to town, billboards and all.

A number of recruits in the 2015 and 2016 classes who plan to attend the game said they are looking forward to the possibility of seeing something a little bit different than other Pac-12 visitors when the Ducks take the field.

"Speed is mandatory to be offered there," said Washington State commit Dominic Davis, who will attend the game and holds offers from UCLA and USC. "Seeing them in person versus on TV will probably give me an idea of just how fast they are. On TV, everybody looks fast. But you can't hide speed in person."

"I love watching Oregon play," said David Long, a 2016 recruit with an early offer from UCLA. "It speeds up the pace of the game and they have a lot of guys that have great ability in space."

Waller said Oregon has an opportunity to make a statement against UCLA, which would give the Ducks coaches even more ammunition as they continue to make themselves comfortable recruiting the best of the best in the region.
Most freshmen are like children's birthday presents.

They are the best, most wonderful, super duper, fantastic thing you’ll ever ever EVER have … until you have it. And then you realize that it’s mostly overrated and your old computer game or old board game or old toy is actually better. And within a few days or weeks, you go back to what you had been doing before. Translated to football, the senior and junior running backs or receivers or defensive backs take their rightful spots atop the depth charts.

Yet every year, a few freshmen come along who truly lives up to their billing. And though the Pac-12 Blog might not buy into the preseason hyping of the true freshmen (because yes, every fall there are 40 freshmen who will “definitely” make an impact according to their teammates, coaches, etc.), halfway through the regular season there are a few guys we really need to acknowledge as the Frosh Phenoms of the Pac-12.

Your top five Pac-12 freshmen heading into Week 7:

[+] EnlargeNick Wilson
AP Photo/Steve DykesArizona freshman running back Nick Wilson is already among the Pac-12 leaders.
RB Nick Wilson, Arizona - 90 rushes, 574 yards, 6 TD | 8 receptions, 67 yards, 1 TD
Wilson already has accounted for three 100-yard rushing games in just five appearances for the Wildcats, and through those five games he has become Arizona’s leading rusher. Wilson is second in the conference in rushing yards per game (114.8) and seventh in the conference in all-purpose yards per game (128.2). Through four games he has already accounted for 16 rushes of 10-plus yards (tied for 25th in the country).

  • What ESPN.com scouts said: “Wilson is a home run hitter with the playing strength and speed needed to wear down opponents and shorten the game in the fourth quarter. Early playing time at the BCS level is a definite possibility, especially if route-running and ball-catching skills keep improving and catch up to his running skills.”
RB Royce Freeman, Oregon - 67 rushes, 346 yards, 5 TD | 3 receptions, 33 yards
Freeman is Oregon’s leading rusher through five games and leads the Ducks with five rushing touchdowns. Freeman is seventh in the conference in rushing yards per game (69.2). And that number is even more impressive when considering how the Ducks have been trying out several options at running back, in addition to what quarterback Marcus Mariota can do with his feet. It hasn’t just been the Freeman show since Day 1 in Eugene, he has worked his way into that top spot by beating out players such as Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall.

  • What ESPN.com scouts said: “This is more of a tough, carry-the-load type of back who is going to wear on a defense with inside carries and yards-after-contact production. Is the ultimate pile pusher who keeps his legs driving and will carry defenders who come in high on arm tackles. Low center of gravity and thick, powerful thighs that will absorb a low, heavy blow and keep downhill momentum.”
CB/WR Adoree' Jackson, USC - 4 receptions, 32 yards, 1 TD | 1 punt return, 10 yards | 7 kick returns, 195 yards | 9 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 passes broken up, 2 passes defended
Jackson has played in all three facets of the game for the Trojans and done well in each, and perhaps if he didn’t divide his practice time among all three, he could be a big star in one. But he’s still a contributor everywhere and his overall impact for the Trojans is huge. He started his first career game for USC against Oregon State and had a huge pass deflection in the end zone that led to a Leon McQuay III interception.

  • What ESPN.com scouts said: “One of the more explosive and electric athletes in this class, Jackson comes from a program that has produced its share of playmakers, including USC standout Marqise Lee, and Jackson is cut in that same mold. De’Anthony Thomas type of skill set on offense and would likely be used in a similar role if he plays on that side of the ball. Overall, Jackson's slighter frame is a small concern and he relies on natural ability at times more than refined skill set, but all that should come at the college level when he concentrates on one position.”
S Budda Baker, Washington - 26 tackles, 3 passes broken up, 3 passes defended
Baker has started every game for the Huskies and is the No. 4 tackler on the team (behind Danny Shelton, John Timu and Shaq Thompson). He’s just one of three players to have accounted for at least three pass break-ups and three passes defended for the Huskies and has come close to an interception more than once.

  • What ESPN.com scouts said: “Baker is a fast-pursuing, athletic safety prospect with a lot of productivity around the football in both run and pass support. If Baker can continue to fill out while improving his flexibility and man coverage skills, we see a very productive safety at the next level.”
WR Shay Fields, Colorado - 2 rushes, 14 yards, 1 TD | 33 receptions, 257 yards, 2 TD
Though it’s Nelson Spruce who gets most of the attention as the go-to receiver for the Buffs, Fields has done a pretty good job making a name for himself as well, becoming the No. 2 receiver. He’s a big reason why the Buffs are halfway to their 2013 win total just four games into the 2014 season, with close losses to Cal and Oregon State.

  • What ESPN.com scouts said: “Fields is also productive running the jet sweep, returning kickoffs and as a defensive back. He shows good plant-and-cut ability when running of the edge. He's effective returning kickoffs, flashing the vision needed to locate and get into creases for good yardage. A strong wrap tackler on defense indicating potential as a special-teams player. Displays good route awareness and discipline as a zone coverage defender. He could earn early situational playing time if a redshirt year isn't necessary.”
Honorable mention: RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State; DB Jaleel Wadood, UCLA; CB Armand Perry, Arizona State; RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford; WR JuJu Smith, USC; QB/WR/RB Luke Rubenzer, Cal.

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