Darron Thomas' status is unclear

October, 17, 2011
As expected, Oregon coach Chip Kelly had little to say about QB Darron Thomas' hurt knee Sunday.

Thomas did a good job downplaying the injury after the Ducks beat Arizona State.

The cumulative implications here suggest that Thomas doesn't have a season-ending knee injury. The unofficial term everyone likely will adopt is a "sprain," which is one of those injuries that either needs just a few days to heal or two or three weeks.

For example, Washington QB Keith Price has been playing on two "sprained" knees. Of course, everyone knows Huskies QBs are particularly tough. A Duck may react differently to a "sprained" knee.

Kidding! I'm kidding!

And let's not forget RB LaMichael James. He sat out Saturday with a dislocated elbow. His return also is uncertain. (In a postgame chat with Kelly, without me asking, he said, "I think we'll get them back," which reflected the general scuttlebutt that disaster has been avoided with both Thomas and James).

Considering how well Bryan Bennett played after replacing Thomas, there doesn't see to be much reason to rush Thomas (and James) back, particularly for Saturday's visit to a struggling, beaten up Colorado team, which may be without its best offensive and defensive players.

After that, Washington State comes to town. Again, you'd think the Ducks could handle the better-but-not-there-yet Cougars without Thomas and James.

Then things get tricky.

Obviously, everybody is thinking about the Ducks' Nov. 12 visit to Stanford, which has long been considered the Pac-12 game of the year. But the Nov. 5 visit to No. 25 Washington also figures to demand the Ducks' full regard. That's the game Oregon fans would least like to lose on an annual basis.

While most coaches don't think about injuries strategically -- if you're healthy, you play; if you aren't, you don't -- there is something to be said to priorities and playing it safe.

Further, there's the issue of depth behind Bennett. That's true freshman Marcus Mariota and perhaps former QB Daryle Hawkins, now a receiver. Bennett at this point is a more effective runner than passer, but if he runs 15 times, that also exposes him to more contact, which is risky.

The intrigue here will be writers who cover the Ducks trying to spy Thomas and James and read between the official lines of communication coming from Kelly, which will be a uniform "day-to-day."

But the reality is that we almost certainly won't know when Thomas and James will resume their starting roles until just before game time.

Midseason All-American, All-Pac-12 teams

October, 17, 2011
Phil Steele last week named a midseason All-American and All-Pac-12 team.

Here are his midseason All-Americans first- and second-teamers.

First team

RB LaMichael James, Oregon
WR Robert Woods, USC
OG Ryan Miller, Colorado
OG David DeCastro, Stanford

Special teams
P Jackson Rice, Oregon

Second team
OT Matt Kalil, USC
OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford

LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
S T.J. McDonald, USC

You can see all four teams here.

Here's his All-Pac-12 first team.

QB Andrew Luck, Stanford
RB LaMichael James, Oregon
RB Chris Polk, Washington
WR Keenan Allen, California
WR Marquess Wilson, Washington State
WR Robert Woods, USC
TE Coby Fleener, Stanford
C Garth Gerhart, Arizona State
OG David DeCastro, Stanford
OG Ryan Miller, Colorado
OT Matt Kalil, USC
OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford

KR Jesse Callier, Washington
PR Jamal Miles, Arizona State

DL Nick Perry, USC
DL Trevor Reilly, Utah
DL Travis Long, Washington State
DL Scott Crichton, Oregon State
LB Mychal Kendricks, California
LB Chaz Walker, Utah
LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
LB Chase Thomas, Stanford
CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
S John Boyett, Oregon
S T.J. McDonald, USC

K Erik Folk, Washington
P Jackson Rice, Oregon

You can see all three teams here.

Four enter ASU 'Ring of honor'

October, 17, 2011
Four former Arizona State football greats will be inducted into the school's Ring of Honor on Nov. 18-19.

From the press release:

Those immortal players are Curley Culp, 1967 All-America nose tackle who starred for the Sun Devils in 1965-67, the late John Henry Johnson, running back who played for Arizona State for one excellent all-around season in 1952 before launching his Pro Football Hall of Fame career, Woody Green, ASU’s current all-time leading rusher who was selected to the All-Western Conference team all three of his Sun Devils varsity years in 1971-73, and Charley Taylor, twice an All-WAC player during his career as a running back that spanned 1961-63. They join 2010’s initial nine inductees (alphabetical): Mike Haynes, John Jefferson, coach Frank Kush, Randall McDaniel, Bobby Mulgado, co-founder Ron Pritchard, the late Pat Tillman, Danny White, and “Whizzer” White.

Utah's Shelby wins national POW honors

October, 17, 2011
Utah's defense dominated Pittsburgh on Saturday in a 26-14 victory -- the Panthers had no offensive scores -- and senior end Derrick Shelby was a big reason why. His efforts earned him defensive player of the week honors from the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

Shelby had a team-high seven tackles (six solo), including 2.5 for losses and 1.5 quarterback sacks. He also intercepted a pass and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.

With the win, Utah improved to 3-3 on the season and will visit California on Saturday.

Pac-12 power rankings: Week 7

October, 17, 2011
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

If you don't like where you are in the power rankings, play better.

See last week's power rankings here.

1. Oregon: The Ducks retake the top spot after an impressive win against Arizona State. Need to get healthy.

2. Stanford: The Cardinal have an opportunity to notch a quality win against Washington on Saturday, which might help in the beauty contest we call the BCS standings.

3. Washington: The Huskies have a chance for a landmark victory against Stanford, one that would reconfigure the North Division race and provide the proverbial, "We're baaaaack!" to the college football nation.

4. Arizona State: There was little to suggest from a highly competitive game at Oregon that the Sun Devils can't play with anyone.

5. USC: Trojans continue to linger, winning games but not many admirers. But if they win at Notre Dame, national folks will be forced to take notice, though most likely not without giving in to their apparently inexorable urges to tweak Lane Kiffin.

6. UCLA: The Bruins play at Arizona on Thursday night after a bye week. And, yes, beating a team that just fired its coach makes this a must-win for Rick Neuheisel. The potential parallel is too difficult to ignore.

7. Washington State: In the first half against Stanford, the Cougars showed how much they have improved. In the second half, they revealed how far they still have to go. And beating Oregon State on Saturday is critical for bowl hopes and coach Paul Wulff.

8. Utah: The Utes are 0-3 in Pac-12 play but have two of the better nonconference wins -- at BYU, at Pittsburgh -- in the conference. It's cool how coach Kyle Whittingham read the Pac-12 blog last week and then told his players to stop turning the ball over five times per game, as they had done the previous two weeks. Coach, that's the sort of advice you get from an AQ conference blogger.

9. California: It feels like the Bears' chances for a successful season might hang on beating Utah at home on Saturday. Neither team wants to start 0-4 in Pac-12 play, but Jeff Tedford and the Bears have been doing this a bit longer.

10. Oregon State: At 1-5, salvaging a respectable season is a more reasonable goal than a bowl game. Losing a second consecutive year to Washington State probably wouldn't go over well about the Beavers faithful.

11. Colorado: The cold reality has set in: The Buffs don't have enough horses to compete in the Pac-12 at present. One word: Recruiting. Another word: Recruiting.

12. Arizona: The Wildcats have had a bye week to digest the sudden termination of coach Mike Stoops. It will be interesting to see how they react against UCLA on Thursday. Will they be energized or will they look uninterested?

Pac-12 BCS standings reaction

October, 16, 2011
BCS standings reaction: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The Pac-12 isn't much of a factor in the first BCS standings. Of course, it's not about the first BCS standings; it's about the last.

Stanford is No. 8, Oregon is 10th and Washington is 25th.

The Ducks are the No. 2 one-loss team behind No. 9 Arkansas.

LSU is No. 1, Alabama No. 2 and Oklahoma No. 3. The computer polls rank Oklahoma State No. 1.

Stanford's highest computer ranking is No. 8. Its lowest is 20th. It's overall computer ranking is eighth (the high and low ranking are thrown out). The Cardinal is seventh in the Harris poll and fifth in the coaches poll.

Oregon's highest computer ranking is No. 7. It's lowest is 18th. It's overall computer ranking is 12th. The Ducks are ninth in the Harris poll and eighth with the coaches.

What does this mean for the Pac-12's national title hopes? It's fairly simple

It means Stanford needs help and Oregon needs a lot of help. One will help itself on Nov. 12 when they play.

Stanford needs all the teams on its schedule to keep winning and the teams ahead of it to lose. At this point, if the winner of the LSU-Alabama game and the winner of the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State games end up undefeated, they will play for the national title, no matter what the Cardinal (or Boise State, nor Wisconsin, etc.) does.

So it's fine for one of those four to go undefeated. Just not two. Stanford -- or Oregon -- only needs to be second in the final BCS standings to play for the title.

But even to do that, one or the other will need there to be some losing over the coming weekends.

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 7

October, 16, 2011
Projecting the bowls based on the seven weeks of games.

Rose Bowl Game: Stanford vs. Big Ten
Valero Alamo: Oregon vs. Big 12
Bridgepoint Education Holiday: Arizona State vs. Big 12
Hyundai Sun: Washington vs. ACC
MAACO Las Vegas: California vs. Mountain West
Kraft Fight Hunger: UCLA vs. ACC or Army
Gildan New Mexico: Utah vs. Big 12

Links: Recruiting battle in South Bend

October, 16, 2011
We Are SC's Erik McKinney writes Insider: When USC makes its way this weekend to South Bend, they'll be looking to throw a wrench in Notre Dame's plans for a big recruiting weekend that features a number of high-profile talent.

Greg Katz writes Insider: While the USC-Notre Dame game is a sporting spectacle every year, the experience of traveling to South Bend every other year might be even more special.

Huskies enter rankings; ASU hangs on

October, 16, 2011
Washington entered both polls Sunday, while Arizona State wasn't dropped after losing at Oregon.

The Huskies were ranked 22nd by the AP and 24th by the coaches.

Arizona State was tied with Georgia for 24th in the AP and ranked 25th with the coaches.

That gave the Pac-12 four ranked teams: Stanford was seventh in the AP and fifth with the coaches, while Oregon was ninth with the AP and eighth with the coaches.

USC was the equivalent of 28th in the AP poll. The Trojans aren't eligible for the coaches poll due to NCAA sanctions.

The first BCS standings will be released tonight.

The AP poll ranks the top three: LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma. The coaches have it: Oklahoma, LSU and Alabama.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 7

October, 16, 2011
What did we learn from Week 7 of Pac-12 action?

Oregon can beat you a lot of different ways: Oregon didn't have its top two offensive stars on the field -- running back LaMichael James and quarterback Darron Thomas -- when it asserted itself in the second half against Arizona State. What that showed in a 41-27 win is the Ducks not only have depth, they also have confidence that the next players in line -- in this case Kenjon Barner and Bryan Bennett -- are good enough to get the job done. Still, the Ducks probably would like James and Thomas back as soon as possible.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonKeith Price threw four touchdown passes in Washington's win over Colorado.
Washington is ready for a test; so is Stanford: Washington is 5-1, but it hasn't beaten a team with a winning record. The Huskies' lone loss came at Nebraska , where they were competitive but still lost 51-38. This looks like a pretty good team, particularly on offense, but it's hard to be sure. Enter Stanford. The closest an opponent has been to Stanford, now 6-0, is 26 points (UCLA), but none of its previous foes have winning records either. The Cardinal have been dominant on both sides of the ball, and they whipped the Huskies 41-0 last year. This figures to be the second matchup of ranked Pac-12 teams this year. The Huskies could make a big statement with an upset. The Cardinal would get credit for a quality win.

Utah is pretty good when it doesn't beat itself: Utah lost the turnover battle 10-1 in its previous two games, not surprisingly both losses. It beat Pittsburgh 26-14, largely because it didn't turn the ball over and the Panthers did three times. While not a perfect performance -- the Utes gave up two special-teams TDs -- it should remind the Utes what they can do when they play smart football.

Tedford's seat is heating up: The 30-9 loss to USC was California's third consecutive conference defeat, and the regression of QB Zach Maynard is a concern. While coach Jeff Tedford did a nice job rebuilding the program, he also is responsible for the program's present state. And that is uncertain. Another bowl-less season in Berkeley could make life difficult for Tedford.

Colorado, Oregon State and Arizona -- who's the worst? Colorado and Oregon State don't play each other, which I'd bet bothers both because they'd see a chance to win. And, of course, Oregon State's win over Arizona was the final straw for coach Mike Stoops. The Wildcats and Buffs square off on Nov. 12 -- the same day Oregon and Stanford play -- in what will be a key contest for figuring out the No. 12 spot in the conference.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 16, 2011
Who gets a helmet sticker for a job well done on week seven?

Dion Bailey, USC: The Trojans linebacker led grabbed two interceptions and led the defense with eight tackle in the 30-9 win over California.

Utah defense: The Utes held Pittsburgh without an offensive TD in a 26-14 victory. The Panthers had 120 total yards and three turnovers. They completed 9-of-30 for 50 yards with two interceptions.

Keith Price, Washington: The Huskies quarterback completed 21 of 28 passes for 257 yards with four TDs and no interceptions in the 52-24 blowout win over Colorado. He has 21 TD passes this season, already tied for fourth most in program history.

Andrew Luck, Stanford: After a slow start, including an interception on his first possession, the Cardinal QB completed 23-of-36 for 336 yards with four TDs in the 44-14 win at Washington State.

Bryan Bennett, Oregon: While RB Kenjon Barner was the star, rushing for 171 yards in LaMichael James' stead, the Ducks redshirt freshman backup QB came off the bench in the third quarter for Darron Thomas and led the Ducks from a deficit to a 41-27 win.

When Oregon looked down, it surged

October, 16, 2011

EUGENE, Ore. -- How bad did things look for Oregon early in the third quarter against Arizona State? Let us count the ways.

One, running back LaMichael James, the best running back in college football, was on the Ducks' sideline in street clothes with a dislocated elbow. Two, he had been joined by QB Darron Thomas, who hurt his knee on a three-and-out possession to start the second half. Three, the Sun Devils took the ball and raced 67 yards in four plays -- all running -- to take a 24-21 lead. And four, redshirt freshman QB Bryan Bennett was coming off the bench cold for his first meaningful career action on ESPN.

The Four Sun Devils of the Duckapocalypse!

Or not.

Number five is the doozy: With Bennett running the show, Oregon asserted its will, wore down the Sun Devils, took over the game and won impressively, 41-27, rushing for 269 of its 327 yards in the second half.

[+] EnlargeBryan Bennett
Jim Z. Rider/US PresswireBryan Bennett stepped in for an injury-ravaged Oregon offense and closed out the win against Arizona State.
"I had to pull myself together and be poised and go out there and lead this offense," Bennett explained.

Oregon has an unquestioned superstar in James, a 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist and Doak Walker Award winner. And it has a second-team All-Pac-Conference QB in Thomas. But there's more to this team. The Ducks also have a defense that can make a stand and several players who are mostly unknown outside the Ducks' maniacal fan base but fully capable of breaking an opponent's heart.

Or his ankles, which is a good transition for taking note of James' backup, Kenjon Barner, who led the second-half charge by rushing for 148 of his 171 yards after the break. He began the day with a fumble, but ended it by looking a lot like, well, James.

"Kenjon could start at a lot of schools in this country," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.

But it wasn't just Barner and Bennett, who completed just 2 of 5 passes, but rushed for 65 yards. It also was true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, who rushed for 73 yards on seven carries (10.4 per carry) and two TDs, and caught four passes for 24 yards. It also was tight end David Paulson, who caught three passes for 41 yards and a TD, one of six receivers who caught at least one of the Ducks' 22 pass attempts. It also was a defense that yielded 460 yards but only 10 second-half points.

Heck, it also was cornerback Cliff Harris returning from Kelly's purgatory to grab a critical interception, which he returned 50 yards to set up a TD drive just before halftime.

"You take the good and the bad with Cliff," said Kelly, who noted that Harris fumbled after he was tackled -- the Ducks recovered -- and also was beaten for a touchdown. "We need Cliff to be good for the football team."

At various moments of the back-and-forth affair, which featured 170 yards in penalties, a majority of which were from personal fouls, Arizona State seemed to be asserting itself. QB Brock Osweiler was the player of the first quarter, completing 11 of 13 passes for 122 yards and two TDs.

But Thomas owned the second quarter, completing 9-of-11 for 147 yards and two scores as the Ducks took a 21-17 lead into the break. Still, that the Ducks had only 58 yards rushing at halftime seemed to hint that things might be leaning slightly toward the Sun Devils.


"We've been in these situations before," Kelly said. "Our defense really had our back."

That's how things often are with Oregon. They lose a quarter. They trail at the half. They give up yards. But they adjust and explode. And break an opponent down.

"Oregon did a really good job matching our routes and that was what the major difference was between the first half and the second," Osweiler aid. "They just came out of the locker room and finished the game with a near-flawless second half."

It was Oregon's 20th straight victory at Autzen Stadium and 15th straight victory over a conference foe.

Oregon, now 5-1 and 3-0 in the Pac-12, visits Colorado next weekend and then returns home to play host to Washington State. They should win those games, with or without James and Thomas. Then things get tricky with a visit to surging, hated rival Washington before the trip to Stanford on Nov. 12 -- a game that has been circled in red since the preseason as the Pac-12 North game of the year.

Arizona State's season certainly wasn't ruined. It remains the overwhelming favorite to win the South Division and to advance to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 2. ASU will be favored in all of its final five games.

"The bottom line for us is we got beat by a good football team," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "We've got five football games left. We have a lot to play for."

So does Oregon, which is refusing to exit the national picture as some projected it might after a season-opening loss to LSU.

Video: Oregon's Bryan Bennett

October, 16, 2011

Bryan Bennett talks with Ted Miller about filling in for an injured Darron Thomas and leading the Ducks to a big 41-27 win over Arizona State.

Final: Oregon 41, Arizona State 27

October, 16, 2011

EUGENE, Ore. -- Backup QB Bryan Bennett came off the bench for an injured Darron Thomas and led Oregon to a 41-27 victory over Arizona State.

The Ducks led 21-17 at halftime, but the Sun Devils took a 24-21 lead just after Thomas went down. The Ducks then scored and took control on both sides of the ball, with Bennett leading a dominant rushing attack.

The ninth-ranked Ducks improve to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12. No. 18 ASU falls to 5-2 and 3-1.

Thomas' status is uncertain and may remain that way because the Ducks don't share injury information.

Oregon plays at Colorado on Saturday. Arizona State, still a heavy favorite to win the South Division, which could mean a rematch with the Ducks, are off next week.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon took the biggest hit a team could -- losing its starting quarterback -- yet asserted itself in the third quarter.

Darron Thomas went down with an apparent knee injury, and the Sun Devils immediately took a 24-21 lead after a quick 67-yard drive.

But backup Bryan Bennett led the Ducks on two TD drives to answer, and the Ducks enter the final frame up 35-24.

Oregon had just 58 yards rushing in the first half but it gained 188 yards on the ground in the third quarter.

And the defense after allowing the one ASU TD drive put the clamps down on Brock Osweiler and the Sun Devils.

There have been a lot of momentum swings in this game. Have the Ducks created the last one?