Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
9:00
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It's time to start sorting out the weekend mayhem in the Pac-12, starting with a look at standout players.

Nelson Agholor, WR, USC: Last season, Agholor torched California as a punt returner. This time, he etched his name into Trojans history as a wide receiver. Agholor grabbed 16 Cody Kessler passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first USC wide receiver ever to amass 200 receiving yards in consecutive games, in a 38-30 USC victory. Agholor has teamed with Kessler and Javorius Allen to form quite the three-headed monster on top of the USC offense, and that unit will take aim at UCLA with plenty on the line next weekend.

Su'a Cravens, DB, USC: Cravens' versatility on defense has been essential to USC's success this season, particularly after the Trojans lost physical cornerback Josh Shaw. Since then, Cravens has thrown his powerful 6-foot-1, 225-pound frame all over the field, and he did more of the same against Cal Thursday night, racking up a team-high 10 tackles, 1.5 tackle for loss, and a pass break-up. Cravens leads USC with 14 TFL and two interceptions this season. He's also broken up eight passes. It's about time he earned a helmet sticker.

Casey Skowron, K, Arizona: Call it poetic justice. Five weeks after a Steve Sarkisian icing timeout nullified his potential game-winning field goal against USC, Skowron missed his first try at the gun against Washington -- except Chris Petersen's icing timeout gave him a second chance. This time, Skowron nailed the 47-yard game winner on his second chance, sending Arizona to 27-26 victory. Demons exorcised.

Henry Anderson, DL, Stanford: The Cardinal defense showed up on Senior Day, but the team's offense again failed to deliver in a 20-17 double-overtime loss to Utah. Anderson did his job, though. The fifth-year senior registered the best game of his career in his final home game, notching three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, both career bests. The numbers Anderson put up Saturday surpassed those that he had posted in the previous nine.

Tom Hackett, P, Utah: The Utes and the Cardinal engaged in an ugly three-hour, evenly matched defensive brawl. Stanford ran the ball more effectively, but Utah made up for that through Hackett's sensational punting. He racked up an astonishing 402 yards on nine punts -- an average of 44.7 per boot -- and pinned the Cardinal inside their 20-yard line six times. Thanks primarily to Hackett, Stanford's average starting field position was its 18, while Utah started from its 32. That was a significant difference in this defensive struggle.

Nate Orchard, DL, Utah: If Anderson earns a helmet sticker, Orchard deserves one too: He racked up a team-leading 10 tackles and 3.5 sacks to help push Utah's national lead in sacks to 47. The Utes actually struggled against Stanford's run game, but it seemed like Orchard constantly made a huge plays at critical junctures to stymie the Cardinal.

Terron Ward and Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State: The Beavers' dynamic backfield duo punched Arizona State's defense in the face with two long first-quarter touchdown runs, and that set the tone for Oregon State's 35-27 upset win. Ward finished with 148 yards on 19 carries (7.8 yards per carry) while Woods racked up 125 yards on only 11 carries (11.4 ypc). At the end of the first quarter, both backs were averaging over 35 yards per carry. Keep in mind that this all came against a Sun Devils defense that had been smothering the run for several weeks, and it set up Sean Mannion and Jordan Villamin (four catches, 127 yards) for passing success down the stretch.
A few things we learned this week in the Pac-12.

The South is a mess, again: UCLA is now the front-runner in the division following Arizona State's 35-27 loss to Oregon State. The tiebreaker scenarios now start to get a little confusing. Luckily, Kyle Bonagura broke it all down earlier this week. You can click here to check it out. The simplest scenario would be for UCLA to win out and face Oregon (which has already locked up the North) in the Pac-12 title game. But this league doesn't do simple. It mocks simple. It laughs at you for even beginning to hope that anything will ever be simple again. So expect more chaos in the final couple of weeks.

[+] EnlargeTerron Ward
Brian Murphy/Icon SportswireFollowing its upset of No. 6 Arizona State, Oregon State has now gone 5-5 at home as an unranked team playing a top 10 team since 2000.
But the South is also awesome: Even though the league's best chance at landing a team in the College Football Playoff comes from the North (see below), the South continues to assert itself as the dominant division. It entered the week 11-6 against its northern brethren, and picked up three more wins along the way. Victories from Arizona over Washington, Utah over Stanford and USC over Cal improved the mark to 14-7. OSU's stunner over ASU prevented the sweep. The South is plenty deep and plenty talented. David Lombardi wrote about that last week, as a matter of fact.

And then there was one: We've been saying for quite some time that a one-loss Pac-12 champion gets into the College Football Playoff. That hope is still alive with the Ducks, who were on a bye this week. The optimal scenario of Oregon and a one-loss ASU team meeting in the Pac-12 championship game -- in essence a playoff elimination game -- is gone. Even if a South team does win the conference, it will be tough for a two-loss team to get in. Not saying it's impossible, but it will be hard. So the Ducks, once again, are carrying the league's postseason hopes.

Consider Kessler: Coaches will no doubt start penciling in their all-conference teams soon, if they haven't started already. I think it's safe to assume that Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota is a sure thing for first team. But how about second team? Something to ponder: USC's Cody Kessler is completing 70.2 percent of his throws with 29 touchdowns to just three interceptions. While the Trojans have had a fairly up-and-down season, Kessler has mostly been steady. He probably deserves a lot more national recognition than he's getting.

Home warriors: Something amazing happened this week: The home teams actually did pretty good! Coming into the week, the road team was 26-13 in conference games. But with home wins from Arizona, Oregon State and USC, the visitors “fall” to 27-16. Of course, the one team that lost at home -- Stanford -- once held the nation's longest home win streak. Chalk it up to more Pac-12 lunacy this year.

Rivalry implications: The first round of rivalry games kicks off next week with UCLA and USC squaring off at the Rose Bowl and Cal hosting Stanford in the Big Game. Lots of intrigue surrounding both games. USC is coming off a win against Cal, while the Bruins were on a bye. As noted above, this is a huge game for the South Division standings. And if the Bruins win, they can lock up the division a week later against the Cardinal. For Stanford and Cal, the winner is bowl eligible. Given that one team is offensively challenged and the other is defensively challenged, it's the tale as old as time of weakness on weakness.

Coming back fresh: Four teams had a bye in Week 12: Colorado, Oregon, UCLA and Washington State. All four have varying degrees of importance for which to play. Oregon, as noted above, is looking for a spot in the playoff. Colorado can go all Skynet and blow everything up, locally and nationally. WSU got great production last week out of Luke Falk, who is auditioning to be WSU's quarterback of the future. And UCLA, of course, only has to worry about a rivalry and a division title. Given all that happened this week nationally and within the conference, probably a good week to take a breather.

A day for redemption: A couple of Pac-12 players who starred in the role of goat in previous weeks had their moments in the sun. First, Arizona kicker Casey Skowron -- who caught his share of social media bullying after missing a game-winning 36-yard field goal against USC last month -- was the hero in Tucson for nailing a 47-yarder as time expired in the Wildcats' 27-26 win over Washington. And last week, Utah's Kaelin Clay was a national punchline for his unforced fumble against the Ducks. But Saturday, he caught the first touchdown for Utah in overtime in the Utes' 20-17 win over the Cardinal. Pretty good timing by both guys to come up big.

Corvallis, the city of broken dreams: There are trap games. And then there are trap games at Reser Stadium. Since 2000, Oregon State has the best home record in FBS football as an unranked team going against a team ranked in the AP top 10 (minimum 10 games), improving to 5-5. Chantel Jennings broke down a few of those for you earlier this week.
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Sixth-ranked Arizona State traveled to Reser Stadium and added its name to the Beavers’ list of top-10 takedowns following Oregon State's 35-27 victory.

How the game was won: When Oregon State senior linebacker Michael Doctor picked off Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to put the Beavers ahead by the final margin. That was the play that sealed it for Oregon State, but it came on the tails of the Beavers finding ways to be opportunistic while Arizona State played sloppy. Kelly was 9-of-20 for 85 yards and 1 interception in the second half while the Sun Devil defense gave up big, big plays and tossed in a few penalties as well.

Game ball goes to: Oregon State’s run game. The Beavers were averaging 108 rushing yards per game. Against the Sun Devils, they exceeded that ... in the first quarter. Terron Ward and Storm Woods combined for 2 touchdowns and 273 yards on 30 carries. The Beavers finished with 247 total rushing yards -- the most rushing yardage ASU had given up this season (the Sun Devils gave up 225 against UCLA).

What it means: It opens up the Pac-12 South Division quite a bit. The Sun Devils now sit at 5-2 in the conference along with Arizona and UCLA, while USC is at 6-2. It seemed as though ASU would be the most likely candidate to face Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, but now it could still be either Arizona, UCLA or USC.

Playoff implication: Arizona State's playoff case is harder to plead. Even if the Sun Devils are able to make it to the Pac-12 championship game and beat Oregon, the committee doesn’t have to accept a two-loss Pac-12 champion -- especially one that lost late in the season to an unranked, last-place-in-the-North-Division Oregon State.

From a wider perspective, the Sun Devils’ loss makes the entire conference’s playoff chances a bit murkier. If whatever two-loss (or more) team from the South manages to beat Oregon in the conference championship game, that would mean the committee would either be choosing a two- or three-loss conference champion or a two-loss Duck team -- assuming it wins out -- that didn’t win the conference championship. So, if you’re an SEC West fan, take note, this is the scenario you should be cheering for.

Best play: Doctor's pick-six. Clutch play for a guy who spent most of last year on the sideline following a season-ending ankle injury during the second game of 2013. Doctor's pick is among the most important of the Pac-12 season.

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What's next: Arizona State licks its wounds and tries to take care of business against Washington State, which would mean that a spot in the Pac-12 championship could be on the line in the Territorial Cup against Arizona on Nov. 28 (depending on how things shake out with a few other Pac-12 South teams). Oregon State can revel in this win, which makes coach Mike Riley look a bit better in the eyes of fans and the Oregon State athletic department. The Beavers need to pick up a win over either Washington or Oregon in their final two games to become bowl eligible.

Video: No. 23 Utah 20, Stanford 17, 2 OT

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
9:48
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video

Travis Wilson’s touchdown pass to Kenneth Scott in double overtime lifted Utah to a 20-17 win over Stanford on Saturday.

Video: No. 14 Arizona 27, Washington 26

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
8:05
PM ET
video

Casey Skowron’s two fourth-quarter field goals pushed Arizona to a 27-26 win over Washington on Saturday.

Chat: CFB Saturday Live

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
7:00
PM ET
Chat live with our writers from 9 a.m. to noon ET and then again starting at 8 p.m. ET for the prime-time games. In between, keep this page open as we bring you the latest real-time reaction, analysis, pics and video from our ESPN crew scattered throughout the nation.

Mailbag: SEC gripes, USC success

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
6:30
PM ET
Happy Friday. Welcome to the mailbag.

Follow me on Twitter here.

To the notes!

Bryce from San Francisco writes: Ted, we saw that the committee is willing to put a one-loss team ahead of an undefeated team. Assuming there are no upsets, what needs to happen for Oregon to end up as the No. 1 seed in the college football playoff?

Ted Miller: I think if Oregon, Florida State and Alabama/Mississippi State win out, it goes: 1. Alabama/Mississippi State; 2. Oregon; 3. Florida State. And I would pick a 12-1 Ohio State over an 11-1 Baylor/TCU for the fourth spot.

As for Oregon to be No. 1, that's a long shot. If the SEC champion has just one -- or fewer -- losses, it's going to be the No. 1 seed.

I was a bit surprised by the committee elevating Oregon over Florida State. In fact, I'm not sold on it at this point. But at season's end, it will be much harder to go 12-1 against Oregon's schedule than 13-0 against Florida State's. It's possible the Seminoles won't have a win over a top-15 team, while the Ducks would have three.


Cory from Ann Arbor, Michigan, writes: The SEC's nonconference schedule for next year has four currently ranked teams scheduled for 14 teams in their conference. 4! How is this acceptable, especially when they don't play any of them outside SEC territory? This proves why the Pac-12 is shown so much love from the committee.

Ted Miller: I count five, which doesn't include Oklahoma, hardly a patsy.

The SEC has and continues to upgrade its nonconference schedule, even if Kentucky, Vanderbilt and -- sigh -- Mississippi State lag behind with no Power 5 nonconference foes in 2015. Here's the slate of the best nonconference foes for the other 11, which includes one Pac-12 matchup (Texas A&M vs. Arizona State).

Alabama: Wisconsin
Arkansas: Texas Tech
Auburn: Louisville
Florida: Florida State and East Carolina
Georgia: Georgia Tech
LSU: Syracuse
Missouri: BYU
Mississippi: Fresno State
South Carolina: North Carolina, Clemson, UCF
Tennessee: Oklahoma
Texas A&M: Arizona State, Nevada

Obviously, some of these aren't Power 5 foes, but at least Ole Miss is tip-toeing around the edges, as it did by playing Boise State this year.

The problem with the SEC isn't the nonconference schedules. Its the eight-game conference schedules that are nothing less than a premeditated scamming of the system. The idea that a 14-team league plays just eight conference games pretty much defeats the purpose of having a conference because you miss almost half the conference on an annual basis.

It's nonsensical on every level, other than the simple admission, "Until someone forces our hand, we're going to take a shortcut to the playoff."


Randy from Scottsdale writes: Can you please break down who can win the Pac-12 South and how? The viewers guide says Arizona will win if they win out and USC loses. I don't get how that works. Wouldn't UCLA need to lose? Please assist with tiebreaker rules.Thanks for doing something nice for once, since it is near the holidays.

Ted Miller: For shame, Randy! You have not been eating a healthy diet of Pac-12 blog every hour.

Kyle Bonagura -- popularly known as "Don Kyle" -- prepared a handy-dandy South tiebreaker primer here. And you missed it.

Hope you don't end up sleeping with the fishes.


Clay from Phoenix writes: Let's say Arizona runs the table and beats Oregon in the Pac-12 championship. Would you want the committee to punish them and leave them out because of their soft nonconference, like you do with Baylor?

Ted Miller: Yes.

My obsession with scheduling, from ambitious nonconference scheduling to the Power 5 conference adopting the same conference scheduling format, is not about supporting one region or the other. It's about making the system as fair as possible. And, by the way, making the game itself more entertaining for fans (and me!) due to more quality matchups.

A two-loss Arizona team that wins the Pac-12 surely would get considered for one of four playoff spots, but its weak nonconference slate would and should be held against it, as well as its two defeats.

And, by the way, Arizona isn't becoming more ambitious in 2015.


Jeff from Portland writes: Makes me laugh to hear all the pundits exasperated at the lack of respect given to Alabama for winning in "Death Valley." I think the committee is doing an incredible job and putting names aside and focusing on the true value of wins, which should make winning at Utah or at LSU about equivalent this year. Don't you agree, Ted?

Ted Miller: I haven't sensed much outrage about Alabama's win at LSU being viewed as a good, but far from special win. LSU is a good, but flawed team, and LSU and Alabama fans know that. The Tigers have lost three times --twice at home and once in a blowout.

Of course, everybody's got an opinion. I've even heard rumors that some folks in the media seemingly take certain positions just to get a rise out of folks.

The very idea scandalizes me.


Brian from Boston writes: In your mind, what would it take for USC's season to be considered a success? For me, I still think they have to win out (beat rivals UCLA and Notre Dame) and then still probably win their bowl game (depending on the matchup). I know the Trojans are still crippled by the recruiting sanctions, but 8-5 or 9-4 won't erase the bad taste from the Arizona State and Utah collapses, as well as the near collapses against Arizona and Cal.

Ted Miller: I think USC's season, Steve Sarkisian's first, won't be considered a failure if the Trojans beat UCLA. That's the game that really matters, a rivalry showdown that sets the pecking order in LA and in the Pac-12 South. While no self-respecting USC fan would ever admit to accepting a loss to Notre Dame, there's also a recognition that this season isn't going to be special and beating the Bruins sends a more important message in the short term.

Moreover, while winning a bowl game also would be nice, the most important hurdle -- even more than UCLA, really -- is the no-longer fettered 2015 signing class of 25, which likely will include six or seven early enrollees.

No matter what happens the rest of the season, if Sarkisian ends up with a top-10 recruiting class that also leads the Pac-12, Trojans fans can eyeball 2015 with high hopes.

USC, by the way, might top 2015 preseason predictions for what is likely to be a stacked South Division.

Bruin Bear seeing red

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
3:20
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It’s officially rivalry week in Los Angeles. And even though UCLA and USC won’t meet at the Rose Bowl for eight more days, some USC pranksters got an early jump on the hijinks.

Per the following tweet, someone -- we’re going to go out on a limb and assume it was USC fans (unless some hardcore UCLA fans are trying to stir up controversy with some self-sabotage) -- spray painted “SC Runs LA” on the Bruin Bear.



The irony, of course, is that the vandalism was done prior to Thursday night’s USC-Cal game. The Trojans won, but it still would have been prudent to at least wait the extra day.

According to a UCLA spokesman, the spray paint was found on the Bear around 7 a.m. Thursday. It has already been removed and the Bear has been boxed up, which is customary during rivalry week. Or, as the spokesman put it, it’s “in hibernation.”

You might recall the Bear being featured in the “Brett Hundley: Campus Enforcer” video from last summer, when the UCLA quarterback struck down a fictitious USC fan riding the Bear with a deep ball.

This is not the first time the Bear has been aesthetically assaulted.

But it certainly adds a little more fuel to the rivalry. The Bruins have won the last two meetings, downing the Trojans 38-28 at The Rose Bowl in 2012 and 35-14 last season at the L.A. Coliseum – their first win at USC since 1997.

The Pac-12 blog is all for friendly rivalries. But for originality, vandalism and penmanship, we say “meh.” And considering UCLA has won the last two, the vandals get zero points for accuracy.
Oregon barber shop Jeremy Bitterman/Eckert & EckertUnsurprisingly, Oregon has the Pac-12's nicest barbershop.


With all the renovations that have happened on Pac-12 facilities recently it should come as no surprise that many seem more like all-inclusive resorts than what most imagine as a locker room.

And one of the latest fads?

In-facility barbers chairs and barber shops so that players can cut players’ hair.

The only Pac-12 teams on which a player must venture outside of the program’s facilities to receive a haircut are: Arizona, Oregon State, Stanford and USC.

Oh the horror ...

[+] EnlargeWashington State barber shop
Courtesy of Bill StevensWashington State's resident barber, DB Tracy Clark, welcomes defensive coordinator Mike Breske into the Cougars' chair.
That leaves eight programs that either have barber shops in-house or will have them within the next year (Colorado).

And it should come as no surprise that at most of these schools there is also a resident team barber. If you’re on Arizona State’s roster and you get your hair cut in the locker room, chances are it’s by freshman running back Kalen Ballage.

If you’re sitting in the barber chair at UCLA, you’d be in the hands of freshman defensive back Ron Robinson. In Utah’s “Chop Shop” you’d likely see sophomore tight end Siale Fakailoatonga and sophomore linebacker Pita Taumoepenu holding the clippers.

Redshirt senior cornerback Tracy Clark is the go-to guy at Washington State if you want a new ‘do. When Washington had a barbershop put into its facilities last fall, it was Josh Shirley who gave out the most haircuts, but since he transferred to UNLV in August, no new Husky has taken over as the resident hairstylist.

The most surprising Pac-12 barber is probably redshirt senior offensive lineman Hamani Stevens and it’s not because he’s not a skill position guy (though, there has to be some correlation between the two considering the barbers at other Pac-12 schools).

[+] EnlargeUtah barber shop
Kevin Gemmell/ESPN.comUtah players can get their hair cut in the Utes' "Chop Shop."
What’s most surprising about the offensive lineman being the go-to barber for Oregon is that by the looks of his own hair, it has been a while (read: maybe years?) since he has had a true haircut (disclaimer: he said he does trim his own hair from time to time).

But according to Stevens, one doesn’t necessarily need neat hair to make one’s hair neat. He says he can give a pretty close cut, if that’s what his teammates want.

Stevens learned the dos and do-not’s of ‘dos from his four older brothers but it all boils down to one rule: the end product needs to not look ridiculous. The exception here is his teammate, linebacker Dan Mattingly, who has had Stevens cut his hair into “The Boz” (Mohawk on top, mullet in the back), which is named for former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth.

“After they get a haircut, if they’re looking really goofy then that’s going to come back to me and ruin my reputation,” Stevens said.

And so far, that has been a reputation he wants to protect.

Even with his chopping chops, there are a few players on the Ducks’ roster that won’t let Stevens near their hair (specifically, fifth-year senior safety Erick Dargan) and there are also players that he doesn’t want to go near (specifically graduated Oregon linebacker Kiko Alonso).

“That guy was the biggest prima donna you’ve ever met,” Stevens said of Alonso. “You’d think he’s a big tough guy but he is too picky with his hair. So I only cut his hair once and after I cut it that one time I said, ‘I’m never cutting your hair again.’ He’s so picky.”
Oregon State isn’t exactly a powerhouse this season, but it has a history of crushing the dreams of opposing teams when they visit Reser Stadium.

[+] EnlargeReser Stadium
AP Photo/Troy WayrynenSome top teams' hopes have gone up in smoke at Oregon State's Reser Stadium.
So Sun Devils, take note. Yes, No. 6 is a good spot to be in the rankings with three games to go in your regular season. But in the past 15 years, the Beavers have pulled out four huge top-10 takedowns in Reser. And the last time Arizona State left Corvallis, Oregon, with a victory was 2005. Yep, that’s four consecutive losses in that stadium.

Can the Sun Devils break their own streak of losses and avoid the history of top-10 upsets? We’ll see. Until then, here’s a look back at some of the other huge, top-10 upsets the Beavers have delivered in the last 15 years.

Nov. 18, 2000: No. 8 Oregon State 23, No. 5 Oregon 13

So this upset is a little different, considering Oregon State was a top-10 team as well, which isn’t the case in any of the other three examples. However, it is a top-10 upset as the Beavers took down Oregon 23-13. Oregon State scored two first-quarter touchdowns and Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington threw five interceptions. The Beavers went onto play in the Fiesta Bowl and beat Notre Dame in the program’s only BCS bowl appearance.

Nov. 10, 2001: Oregon State 49, No. 8 Washington 24

The Huskies were on track to make a BCS game, but the Beavers shattered that hope as they held Washington quarterback Cody Pickett to 13 completions. On the other side of the ball, Beavers running backs Ken Simonton and Steven Jackson propelled the Beavers offense, scoring five rushing touchdowns.

Oct. 28, 2006: Oregon State 33, No. 3 USC 30

The Beavers managed to not only ruin USC’s national title hopes in this game, they also broke the Trojans’ regular-season winning streak at 38, as their last regular season loss had come in 2003. Oregon State went ahead 33-10 in the third quarter and managed to hold on to the lead despite not scoring in the fourth quarter, when the Trojans scored twice.

Sept. 25, 2008: Oregon State 27, No. 1 USC 21

As in 2006, Oregon State built an early lead and was able to hang on. The Beavers led by 21 points in the first half and were led by then-freshman running back Jacquizz Rodgers (186 yards, two rushing touchdowns). It was the most rushing yardage the Trojans had given up since the 2006 BCS national championship game (200 yards, Vince Young).

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
10:00
AM ET
Four teams have bye weeks and California-USC was on Thursday, so it's a lighter Saturday for the conference. Here's a rundown of the action.

12:30 p.m. PT

Washington at Arizona, FOX

[+] EnlargeShaq Thompson
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsCan converted linebacker Shaq Thompson produce enough firepower to help Washington upset No. 14 Arizona?
The Huskies' offense has finally found a pulse with Shaq Thompson at running back. The problem is that the team's once-vaunted defense seems to be running out of steam. The dismissal of cornerback Marcus Peters decimated the secondary, and now injury problems in the front seven (Hau'oli Kikaha exited early last week) have compounded issues. Washington seems vulnerable entering Tucson, and the Wildcats still have plenty to play for: If they can win out in conjunction with one more USC loss, they'll win the Pac-12 South. Those scenarios are still a bit down the road, though, so enjoy the matchup of the nation's two leaders in tackles for loss: Kikaha has 22.5, while Arizona's Scooby Wright III is right behind him at 20.5.

3:00 p.m. PT

Utah at Stanford, Pac-12 Network

The over-under number here stands at 42.5, and that's interesting because this is a matchup of the Pac-12's two most efficient defenses. Statistically, the Cardinal's body of work this year is head and shoulders above the rest of the conference (16.1 points per game, 4.1 yards per play), but Utah is second in the latter category, surrendering only 5.1 yards per play. Earlier this week, I wrote about the intriguing similarities between this 2014 Utah team and the 2012 Stanford squad that won the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal have changed since then, but like the Utes, they've seen up-and-down play from the quarterback position. Will Kevin Hogan or Travis Wilson have a better game here? The team that puts its signal-caller in better position to succeed will likely win Saturday.

7:45 p.m. PT

Arizona State at Oregon State, ESPN

The Sun Devils are riding high, and now the goal is to avoid a letdown in a spot that has some history of being conducive to them. Four top 10 teams have gone down at Reser Stadium since 2000. Oregon State is facing a world of difficulty, though: The Beavers have hit the roughest stretch of Mike Riley's tenure. They're 1-10 in their last 11 Pac-12 games, and that lone win came against Colorado, a team that's winless in conference play. While this is certainly an opportunity for Oregon State to play spoiler and bring some good vibes to a sliding season, ASU clearly has more firepower going in. The Sun Devils flashed greatness in stretches on both sides of the ball last week against Notre Dame, and they now have a chance to solidify their spot atop the Pac-12 South. Watch as Taylor Kelly continues to ease back into his comfort zone following injury.
LOS ANGELES -- Forget everything about USC's roller-coaster season so far.

Erase USC's road wins over Stanford and Arizona. Delete Arizona State’s Hail Mary and Utah’s comeback win over the Trojans.
And as hard as it may be, try to expunge the whole Josh Shaw soap opera that refuses to die.

[+] EnlargeSteve Sarkisian
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriDespite some tumultuous turns, Steve Sarkisian's first season with USC will be a success if the Trojans can beat UCLA and Notre Dame.
Forget it all. None if it matters. All that really matters now is the next two games for USC.

The careers of coaches and legacies of players have depended upon the results of USC's games against UCLA and Notre Dame.

USC has lost to UCLA and Notre Dame in consecutive seasons for the first time in two decades and that has had more than a little to do with USC’s last two head coaches -- Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron -- being shown the door quicker than usual. Had Kiffin not been swept by USC's rivals in back-to-back games in 2012, he would have gotten more than five games the following season to pull USC out of a 3-2 start and if Orgeron hadn’t been swept by both teams again in 2013, he would probably be coaching USC today instead of cooking gumbo in Louisiana.

Sarkisian will not be let go if the streak extends to three years under his watch but his first season as USC’s coach will be defined by the results of the next two weeks and will also go a long way in beginning to shape his legacy at USC. If the Trojans win both games, this season would have to be considered a success even with everything else that has happened. Another sweep, however, would officially put Sarkisian on the hot seat, as crazy as that may sound, after just one season at Troy and give new life to the "Seven-Win Sark" nickname he earned after three consecutive 7-6 seasons at Washington.

Heading into USC’s final two games of the regular season against UCLA and Notre Dame, Sarkisian is thinking more about November than simply the last two games of the month.

“We’re 2-0 in November,” Sarkisian said after USC’s 38-30 win over Cal on Thursday. “We’ve stated all along the goal is to be 4-0 in November and see what happens and so far we’re on track.”

It was a clean slate type of mentality Sarkisian took on and presented to the team after USC lost to Utah on Oct. 25 and was sitting at 5-3. Despite still dealing with sanctions there was a sense within the program coming into this season that they could be a dark-horse playoff contender and when you look at the Trojans’ losses this season that wasn’t as crazy as it may now sound.

They led Arizona State 34-25 with 2:45 left at the Coliseum before giving up two touchdowns, including a game-winning Hail Mary with no time left. They led Utah 21-17 with less than 10 seconds left before Utah scored a game-winning touchdown. It was a game they could have sealed had Nelson Agholor not stepped out of bounds one yard short of the first down marker on fourth down with about two minutes left in the game. And even the Boston College game, which is roundly chalked up as their one resounding defeat of the season, is one in which they led 17-6 in the first half and were within a touchdown of winning in the final minutes.

Then again, these are the kinds of games contending teams find a way to win and the kinds of games the average to good teams simply look back and wonder what could have been.

Despite three losses, USC still has a chance of winning the Pac-12 South and playing Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. They’re going to need some help but first they have to help themselves and beat UCLA.

“When we got to this stretch and we were looking at November and looking at our schedule, the goal is to go 4-0,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to 2-0 with two really good wins and UCLA is the next game on the schedule. We can’t get to 4-0 until we get to 3-0. We are fortunate that we have extra time to prepare, get fresh and put together a really good game plan in all three phases and go play a really good football team and see what happens.”

With UCLA having a bye this week and USC playing on Thursday, both teams will have ample time to get ready for rivalry week. USC fans even got a head start, defacing UCLA’s Bruin bear statue on campus Thursday, spray painting, “SC Runs LA” on the side. But if UCLA wins for the third year in a row, nothing would be further from the truth.

“I have been part of this game so many times,” Sarkisian said. “I love this rivalry. I think it’s a uniquely special one in college football. It divides households. I have two older sisters who graduated from UCLA, so I have to keep one eye on them all week too. This is what college football is about. You get to late November, you are playing rivalry games and this is a game that matters in our conference standings. This is bigger than just playing UCLA, this is a factor in first place in our conference potentially.”

If USC beats UCLA, not only will it snap UCLA’s two-game winning streak in the rivalry, it will give the Trojans a fighting chance of playing in their first Pac-12 championship game. If the Trojans win they would also need Arizona to beat Washington, Utah and Arizona State to punch their ticket to the title game.

“We don’t control our own destiny now but we control what we can control,” QB Cody Kessler said. “We need a couple games to go our way but if we don’t handle our business none if it even matters so our main focus is handling UCLA.”

Like Sarkisian, most of the players at USC realize their legacies at the school will be defined by what they do against UCLA and Notre Dame and that starts next week at the Rose Bowl.

“It’s a big game, you never want to lose to your rival even if it’s just one year in a row,” Kessler said. “It’s something we’re going to take personal. It’s a personal game.”
The College Football Playoff committee has delivered one message loud and clear through the first three weeks of its rankings: Strength of schedule matters. Teams like Baylor are not being rewarded for racking up big wins against a weak nonconference slate. Will that affect how Pac-12 teams schedule in the future? With that in mind, let's take a look at how the 2015 nonconference schedules are looking for teams that figure to be contenders for a playoff spot next year:

Arizona Wildcats
2015 nonconference opponents: vs. UTSA, at Nevada, vs. Northern Arizona

It's the same schedule the Wildcats played this season, except Northern Arizona replaces UNLV and the locations are flipped for the other two. There's not much ambition here and you won't find a Power 5 nonconference opponent on any of Arizona's current future schedules until Mississippi State in 2022.

Arizona State Sun Devils
2015 nonconference opponents: vs. Texas A&M (NRG Stadium, Houston), vs. Cal Poly, vs. New Mexico

Arizona State should be praised for making a point to schedule at least one high-profile nonconference game a season. Its game against Texas A&M should be one of the more anticipated games in all of college football next season because of the rarity of Pac-12 vs. SEC games.

Oregon Ducks
2015 nonconference opponents: vs. Eastern Washington, at Michigan State, vs. Georgia State

The Ducks will almost certainly be adjusting to life without Marcus Mariota. The opener against Eastern Washington can't be described as a traditional cupcake -- the high-powered Eagles pushed Washington to brink this season. But that's certainly a game the Ducks should win ahead of a very challenging trip to East Lansing.

Stanford Cardinal
2015 nonconference opponents: at Northwestern, vs. UCF, vs. Notre Dame

The Cardinal look to have one of the most difficult nonconference slates in the country next season. Northwestern isn't having a good 2014, but UCF and Notre Dame both have winning records this season. Stanford gets the latter two at home -- the Fighting Irish visit at the end of the season.

UCLA Bruins
2015 nonconference opponents: vs. Virginia, at UNLV, vs. BYU

Nothing here really moves the needle, but it's always refreshing to see a Power 5 team schedule all FBS opponents. The Bruins begin life without Brett Hundley at home against Virginia, which gave them trouble this season.

USC Trojans
2015 nonconference opponents: vs. Arkansas State, vs. Idaho, at Notre Dame

As far as USC schedules go, this is about as boring as it gets. The Trojans' yearly game with the Irish locks them in with at least one solid nonconference game, but we'll have to wait until 2016 -- when Alabama is on the schedule -- to get really excited.

Utah Utes
2015 nonconference opponents: vs. Michigan, vs. Utah State, at Fresno State

Well done, Utah. Well done. A traditional power (Michigan), an in-state rivalry (Utah State) and a road game against a program that is usually one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country (Fresno State). Scheduling like this is how a team gets taken seriously.

Washington Huskies
2015 nonconference opponents: at Boise State, vs. Sacramento State, vs. Utah State

Heading to the blue turf is never easy, but hosting FCS opponent Sacramento State almost always is. The Huskies will then host a respectable Utah State program at home. Washington sputtered in nonconference play this season but ultimately eked out wins. They hope for a more auspicious 2015 start.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

November, 14, 2014
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With only three Pac-12 games on Saturday, this could be the lightest visitor weekend between now and signing day. In fact, it could be a weekend without a single official visitor hitting a Pac-12 campus. But that doesn’t mean Pac-12 fans won’t have anything to keep an eye on this weekend. A number of conference targets are headed out on trips and we take a look at a few names to watch.

[+] EnlargeJohn Houston Jr.
Tom Hauck for Student SportsJohn Houston Jr., who visits Miami this weekend, has already visited Oregon and heads to USC for a visit soon.
LB John Houston and DT Rasheem Green -- The ESPN 300 teammates are taking official visit to Miami this weekend, which might be the only program capable of luring either standout defender away from the Pac-12. Both visited Oregon earlier in this season and Houston will take his official visit to Arizona State next weekend. Green remains a high priority for Stanford, UCLA and USC as well, and said he will use official visits to both Los Angeles programs. Houston said UCLA hasn’t been in contact recently, but he will take an official visit to USC for its game against Notre Dame.

ATH Ykili Ross -- The nation’s No. 281 prospect will take his first official visit -- to Notre Dame -- this weekend. Ross recently unveiled his top 12 programs and the Pac-12 is heavily represented, with Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Utah and Washington all making the cut. While Ross appears to be leaning toward USC, a great official visit to Notre Dame has changed things in a hurry for Southern California athletes before. Ross has also said he will take an official visit to USC after his season is over.

QB Devon Modster -- Arizona missed out on quarterbacks in the 2015 class and lost an early commitment from 2016 ESPN 300 signal-caller Shea Patterson, but the Wildcats threw their hat back in the ring by extending Modster his first offer two months ago. It’s likely only a matter of time before more schools jump into the mix, but Modster will be in Arizona this weekend, checking out both the Wildcats and Sun Devils.
From hero to liar to forgotten man: that's Josh Shaw's life from August until now.

The USC cornerback and team captain only has himself to blame for his predicament. He was the one who made up a feel-good story to explain his injured ankles. He was the one who initially hid it from his parents. He was the one who lied to Steve Sarkisian's face when the USC coach asked if he was telling the truth.

Shaw paid the price, suffering physical pain but much more mental anguish as he watched USC play its first 10 games, including Thursday night's home win against Cal. Three months later, it's fair to ask: Does he deserve a second chance? More on that in a bit.

The forgotten man is finally speaking about what happened, telling the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke that he "hit the bottom" after details of The Lie came to light. Shaw explained that after an altercation with his longtime girlfriend, Angela Chilton, which he insists never became physical, he panicked when he saw police pull up to his building, thinking that she had called them.
"If she did say anything, I'm a black man with dreadlocks, and with everything going on in the country at the time, all that stuff in St. Louis [Ferguson, Mo.] … in my mind, I'm going to leap from the balcony so authorities did not see me."

That's how Shaw hurt himself (though not as bad as he initially thought). But he needed to come up with a better explanation for the injuries than the truth. So he made up the story about rescuing his 7-year-old nephew from drowning.

Shaw tells Plaschke that he thought the lie would hold up and, more important, could live only inside Heritage Hall. When USC's sports information department decided, understandably, to put out a news item explaining the reason for Shaw's injury, it once again gave Shaw the chance to recant. He didn't.

You know the rest: story went viral, Shaw lied to Sarkisian, questions remained from school officials and, eventually, Shaw came clean.
"It gets harder and harder to keep up with lie after lie after lie … the timeline wasn't right ... everything was off ... but I was still lying," Shaw said. "I thought I was in way too deep."

Shaw has stayed away from team activities ever since, even though Sarkisian said in September that he would be welcomed back to the team (Shaw appeared on Thursday's game program, which was printed before the season). He is medically cleared but remains sidelined as school and police investigate the situation. After a police report is filed, USC will conduct its own investigation.

USC has three games left, including the regular-season finale against Notre Dame at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Time is running out, but should Shaw be allowed to suit up one more time for the Trojans?

Yes. But only if what he said about The Lie -- namely that he never became violent with Chilton -- is proven true. The two "adamantly deny" that the argument became physical still live together in the apartment where the incident occurred.

Shaw sounds like a good guy who did a bad, stupid thing by repeatedly lying, and has suffered for it. But he had a strong track record before the incident. He appears remorseful in Plaschke's piece.

There are far worse characters in college football than Josh Shaw, ones who continue to play every Saturday. Second chances are rewarded to athletes who commit more egregious offenses.

So if things check out with the investigations, Shaw should return to the field before the season is done.

Florida State the new Quarterback U?

Whatever you think of Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback will leave a production void when he leaves Tallahassee, likely after this season. But the Seminoles are well prepared for life after Jameis. They received a verbal commitment Thursday from quarterback recruit Malik Henry, the top prospect in the 2016 class. Florida State already has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks in the 2015 class, Deondre Francois and De'Andre Johnson. Like Winston, Henry also intends to play baseball at Florida State and said he's fine with the inevitable comparisons to Winston.

Florida State has a storied tradition at several position groups, but the Seminoles are building quite the pipeline under center through recruiting.

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