#4Pac: Most underrated Pac-12 player?

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
9:30
PM ET
Andy Phillips, Scooby WrightGetty ImagesUtah K Andy Phillips and Arizona LB Scooby Wright are among the Pac-12's underrated players.
Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what will be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question or one topic, or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet, and all contribute our thoughts.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're identifying the most underrated player in the Pac-12 so far this season.

Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: Cal RB Daniel Lasco.

Cal RB Daniel Lasco has been around a while. In fact, his 2014 Cal bio notes that he “has played in more games than any other current Cal running back (20) with one start over the last two seasons of his three campaigns with the program.” That is not exactly something that would appear on his campaign poster for the Doak Walker Award, but the reality is things have been pretty meager for the Bears during Lasco’s career, so there hasn’t been much individual glory to go around.

And Lasco isn’t likely to win All-Pac-12 honors this winter. There are running backs with better name recognition and, yes, better numbers. But Lasco’s numbers are quite good at midseason: 81.6 yards rushing per game, which ranks sixth in the conference, with three TDs and a stout 6.2 yards per carry average. He also has caught nine passes for 151 yards with two more TDs.

While most folks think passing when they think of Sonny Dykes’ spread offense, the Bears have hit a nearly 50-50 balance this year with Lasco becoming the lead dog. Last year, while Cal went 1-11, that ratio was nearly 2.75/1. That improved balance, led by Lasco, might be a significant part of the reason Cal is no longer a North Division doormat.

David Lomardi/@LombardiESPN: Arizona LB Scooby Wright III.

Raise your hand if you expected Oregon to rack up an obscene amount of points and yards against Arizona’s defense last Thursday.

Lo and behold, that didn’t happen. The Wildcats held the Ducks in check to the tune of only 24 points. Suddenly, the Pac-12 was confronted with yet another new reality: Rich Rodriguez’s defense isn’t a paper-thin unit anymore. This is an underrated bunch that can hold up in gut-check situations.

That ringleader is Scooby Wright III. Arizona sophomore's linebacker has become a tackling machine for the Wildcats. He’s tied with UCLA’s Eric Kendricks for the Pac-12 lead at 58 tackles and he's gobbling up opposing ball carriers at a frightening level: He followed a 14-tackle performance against Nevada with a remarkable 18-stop game against Cal. Of course, that second effort was drowned in the Hail Mary hoopla following Austin Hill's game winning catch against the Bears.

Wright would have to wait until Eugene for his skills to get more notice and he took full advantage of the opportunity. His sack and strip of Marcus Mariota robbed Oregon of its last, desperate chance to tie the game. That big-time play, featuring a perfect mix of speed, brute force, awareness, and a devastating ability to rip the ball free, cemented Wright in his position as one of the top defensive players in the Pac-12. It’s now time for him to get his deserved acclaim.

Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: Utah K Andy Phillips.

I’m sure within the kicking community, Andy Phillips is not considered underrated. But if you want to pinpoint a player who has quietly done more for his team than possibly any other player in the league, it’s Phillips.

Let’s start with the obvious. He’s 10 of 12 on field goal conversions -- including a long of 50 yards -- and he’s 24-of-24 on PATs. His 54 points are second in the conference only to Arizona’s Casey Skowron (another fantastic kicker, by the way, with a great backstory). He’s perfect from inside 40 yards and 5-of-7 beyond 40.

Now, the not so obvious. He leads the Pac-12 with 24 touchbacks. And given the kick-returning talent in this league, that’s an awfully important club to have in your bag. He can pull off the one-man onside kick. He did it last week against UCLA -- a duplicate of the kick, slide, recover he pulled last year against Utah State. (Every opposing special teams coach left on Utah’s roster is going to be paranoid).

Kickers often get forgotten in these types of discussions. And that’s a shame. Because whether it’s a 50-yarder at the Big House in a storm or a 29-yard game-winner at the Rose Bowl, Phillips delivers. And chances are, Utah is not 4-1 without him.

Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Washington State receiver River Cracraft.

When Washington State receiver River Cracraft breaks the Pac-12 career receptions record in the 2016 season, it’ll be hard to imagine there was ever a time when he was underrated. But in the here and now, Cracraft isn’t usually mentioned right away in conversations about the best receivers in the conference.

Not that it’s hard to understand -- Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, Stanford’s Ty Montgomery and USC’s Nelson Agholor are potential first-round picks and Nelson Spruce has made it easy to forget Paul Richardson at Colorado. Even at WSU, Cracraft ranks just third on the team with 43 receptions behind Vince Mayle (51) and Isiah Myers (45), but ask those around the program which guy is the most important to the team’s success, the answer is usually Cracraft.

In Mike Leach’s offense, receiving stats are naturally inflated compared to other schools, but Cracraft’s rise over the past four weeks deserves extra attention. After missing the Cougars’ game against Nevada due to injury, he’s finished each game since with more catches and more yards than the one before it: Portland State 7-88, Oregon 8-107, Utah 9-126, Cal 11-172.

Let’s have some fun with numbers. If Cracraft keeps this season’s reception-per-game average (8.6) over the rest of this season and the next two (assuming 12 games in each), he’d finish his career with 346 catches – or 87 more than Arizona’s Mike Thomas, who holds the conference’s current receptions record (259).
Welcome to the mailbag. Sun's out, gun's out. Feel free to follow me on Twitter.

DJ. In Berkeley writes: Could you guys post win probability charts for the games this past weekend (similar to your Cardiac Cats article)? I'm especially interested to see Washington State's chance of winning before they botched the field goal, and I'm sure the other wild finishes will make for interesting graphs too.

Kevin Gemmell: Producing one of those graphs burns more than 17,000 tons of fossil fuel and that Arizona post cost us three good photo editors who went mad trying to make sense of all the lines. In other words, the charts themselves aren't readily available right now. But I can give you the statistical breakdown:

Washington State started the fourth quarter with a 78.4 percent chance of winning. Three times it swung back and forth. After Jared Goff connected with Bryce Treggs with 12:35 in the game, Cal’s win percentage went up to 57 percent. There were fluctuations back and forth and at their peak, the Cougs had a 98 percent chance of winning the game -- right before the aforementioned field goal miss. After that, their win percentage dropped to .09.

For the other games, here are some fourth quarter notes:
  • Oregon’s chances of winning never climbed more than 52.1 percent.
  • Before the Jael Mary, the Sun Devils had a 3 percent chance of winning.
  • Oregon State’s win probability never dropped below 68.1 in the fourth quarter.
  • Notre Dame’s win probability shot up from 27.8 to 99 percent after the Everett Golson touchdown pass to Ben Koyack.
  • At UCLA, with 4:50 left in the game, the teams were at a 51.8/48.2 ratio.

From here on out, this should be the new official motto of the Pac-12.

Derrick in Omaha writes: I'm sure Mariota will fall off Heisman lists and out of contention, but he is top four in getting sacked, not to mention, knock downs, hurries,etc. while this is happening, he is passing for 15 tds, rushing and even receiving tds. And NOT THROWING A PICK! Anyone who watches him knows he's the best player in the country.

Kevin Gemmell: I’m with you, Derrick. He certainly passes the eyeball test. But, unfortunately, that’s not what the Heisman is about.

I’ve railed on this many, many times before. I find the idea of the “Heisman Moment” to be arbitrary and outdated. Because the top players in the country have so many Heisman moments – all of which are readily available on your computer, phone or tablet – that the idea of singular and iconic play is silly.

In most straw polls I’ve seen, Mariota has dropped to third … buh… buh … he had a Heisman Moment against Wyoming! I’m not a Heisman voter, but if I were, I guarantee you my system of judgment would be a body of work.

There are seven FBS quarterbacks who haven’t thrown an interception yet. Mariota is one of them (along with Cody Kessler, Cyler Miles and Travis Wilson). Pretty impressive that a third of the leagues QBs haven’t thrown a pick yet. But I digress.

What hurts Mariota in the turnover department is that he’s fumbled twice – including a critical fumble at the end of the Arizona game. Those anti-Heisman Moments tend to stick with voters.

I still think he’s got the best chance of any Pac-12 player, and there are more than enough big-time games on the schedule for him to makeup some ground. In the course of a season, every player has a bad game or two that causes voters to knee-jerk. If he performs well this weekend against UCLA and against Stanford and if the Ducks advance to the Pac-12 championship game, I think that would be more than enough to vault him back to the top of the rankings.

Jared in Vancouver writes: Kevin, you must have an eclectic taste in music, given the random quotes in the daily links. So here's a question. The NCAA tournament has One Shining Moment. What song would you choose for the football playoff?

Kevin Gemmell: Ooooo, I like this one.

One Shining Moment probably wouldn’t work great as a backdrop to football highlights (“The ball is tipped” already screws with the continuity – unless you’re talking about Oregon-WSU pass interference calls, ahhhh…. too soon?)

In my mind, it’s something a lot more upbeat – be it rap, rock or pop.

Now my hip hop knowledge has slipped the closer I get to 40. (The Fresh Prince is still pretty hot these days, right?)

I try to imagine music I that could be playing while a defensive end makes a sack or a running back breaks a string of tackles en route to a 55-yard touchdown run. Some options:

Rap: “My Time” by Fabolous feat. Jeremih.

Rock: “Indestructible” by Disturbed.

Instrumental: The Rocky IV Training Montage (I actually listen to this when I run, though I’m yet to encounter a horse-drawn carriage that has flipped over in the snow. People stare when I scream “DRAGO!” But whatever).

Country: “Rodeo” by Garth Brooks (would really be apt once Texas gets back in the national title picture).

Pop: Is there any better college football prognosticator out there right now than Katy Perry? You “Roar,” girl.

While a few great songs have emerged over the years about baseball – “Glory Days,” “Centerfield” – there really aren’t any iconic football songs. Well, there’s this, and this and this.
If it was humanly possible to forget the past and look at each season as its own individual entity, Cal sophomore quarterback Jared Goff would be just as prevalent in the Heisman Trophy discussions as any player in the country.

Of course -- right, wrong or indifferent -- that’s just not how things work. The Golden Bears’ spectacular departure from relevancy a year ago means it will take much more than an impressive five-game stretch before the country takes notice.

In Berkeley, they’re just fine with that. With a 4-1 record, the Bears have more important things to worry about, more important things to fix.

[+] EnlargeGoff
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesCal quarterback Jared Goff has passed for 1,875 yards and 22 touchdowns in just five games this season.
For Goff, that starts with consistency -- more specifically, his completion percentage. He's connecting on 64.6 percent of his throws but wants to be closer to 70.

“That could really improve our scoring,” he said.

But, Jared, your team is averaging 50 points per game, the second most in the country.

“I know that’s hard to say because we’re scoring so much right now,” he said. “But I really think we can improve.

“There’s a lot of stuff we saw on film that we’d like to fix. Missed some shots early at Washington State, and watching it on film you see that and hopefully we don’t miss it again.”

And despite those so-called missed shots, Cal still dropped 60 on WSU in Pullman as Goff (527 yards) and WSU’s Connor Halliday (734) combined to throw for 1,261 yards, a new single-game FBS record.

The consensus around the Pac-12 is that Goff was good as a true freshman, but now that he’s in Year 2 and the supporting cast (read: offensive line) has improved, he’s not only taken the next step but skipped a few.

“He’s really good in the pocket. Strong arm, ball comes out really, really rapidly,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen, whose Huskies travel to Berkeley this week. “He can throw the ball with the rush around him. He’s not looking for checkdowns in those situations. He can still throw ball down the seams.

“He’s mobile, and although he’s not a ‘runner’ he does a really good job of creating things when things do break down. Very impressed with him. He’s probably the best guy we’ve seen so far.”

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez agreed. The Wildcats needed 36 fourth-quarter points and a Hail Mary to beat Cal at home in a game Goff completed 18 of 30 passes for 380 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

“He played pretty well, I thought, as a freshman. Now, you can always make a leap from your freshman year to your second year in college. He looks like he’s bigger and stronger,” Rodriguez said. “He’s certainly got a good command of the offense having his second year in it. He can make all throws, and he will make all the throws.

“I was really impressed with him a year ago, but I really think he’s better now.”

Goff threw 18 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions last season and has already eclipsed the touchdown total this year. With 22 touchdown passes and three picks, he ranks second nationally in touchdown passes behind only Halliday (26) and has done so with less than half as many attempts (181 for Goff, 369 for Halliday).

Among the 97 quarterbacks in the country who have attempted more than 110 passes, Goff’s QBR (89.6) ranks No. 1. He ranks No. 7 in passing yards (1,875), and 53.3 percent of his pass attempts (including sacks) on third down have gone for first downs, the third-best rate in the country.

In every way a quarterback can be evaluated -- wins, stats, physical ability, leadership -- Goff measures up well.

“I think more than anything he’s understanding what it takes to play quarterback at this level,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “Maturing that way and coming full circle and realizing it takes a lot of work and takes some ups and downs. When things are going good you have to keep a level head, and when things aren’t you have to keep a level. He’s done that.”

Oregon’s Marcus Mariota might be the best player in the country, but against two common opponents -- WSU and Arizona -- there wasn’t anything that indicated he was that much better than Goff. In fact, looking at those two games in a vacuum, it’d be hard not to give the edge to Goff.

Of course, there are other factor in play there (again, read: offensive line), and Goff was quick to shift the focus to his teammates when asked to explain how he’s made such strides this season.

“I think the offensive line doesn’t get enough credit,” he said. “So far this year a lot of the attention has been on me, the receivers, the running backs, but the offensive line ... they’ve improve so much. They’re starting to gel now, and without them we can’t do anything and we know that.”

Now only if they could do something about that defense.

Video: Class rankings Oct. 8 update

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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video

National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert breaks down updates to the 2015 ESPN Class Rankings as well as darkhorse classes that could make a run at the top.

To read the full class rankings, click here.


TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona is on fire and Michigan is burning to the ground, and it's impossible not to juxtapose the divergent results and circle back to the spark the programs have in common: Rich Rodriguez.

Yes, Rodriguez, grinning like a man who's been found not guilty while leaning casually against a wall in Arizona's sparkling new football building Monday, has noticed what's going on in Ann Arbor. His surging team hasn't played the past two Saturdays while Michigan very publicly spiraled down the toilet.

"You couldn't help but turn on the TV and see it," Rodriguez said. "I still have a lot of friends up there that texted, 'What's going on up here?'"

Down in Tucson, Rodriguez has led Arizona to a 5-0 start and a No. 10 national ranking after the Wildcats, though more than a three-touchdown underdog, posted a road upset at No. 2 Oregon last Thursday. The program hasn't been 5-0 since 1998. Meanwhile, Michigan, which unceremoniously fired Rodriguez in 2010 after just three seasons, is 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1967. The Wolverines never before have posted three losses before Oct. 1 in their 135-year football history.

Rodriguez was dispatched in Ann Arbor despite posting improved results every year, from 3-9 in 2008 to 5-7 in 2009 to 7-6 in 2010. He was viewed as a poor fit, as not being a "Michigan Man." His replacement, Brady Hoke, was celebrated as just that and was a favorite of former coach Lloyd Carr. Hoke, however, has done a reverse-Rodriguez, leading an incrementally deteriorating program, from 11-2 with Rodriguez's recruits in 2011 to today's sorry state of affairs.

It would be fair to say Rodriguez, who spent a year as a TV analyst before Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne announced his hiring via Twitter, was anticipating a Michigan question when a reporter pulled him aside for a chat.

To read the rest of this story, click here.
If you ever needed an example of recruiting living at the forefront of every college coach's brain, look no further than this past Thursday, when Arizona went into Autzen Stadium and came away with a 31-24 victory over Oregon.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez was hardly off the field before his attention shifted toward recruiting.

Matt Dudek, Arizona's Director of On-Campus Recruiting and Player Personnel, said he and Rodriguez met on the way up the tunnel following the game.

"He put his arm around me and was screaming, 'Recruiting will be fun tomorrow,'" Dudek said. "That was what, 10 minutes after the game?"

Thanks to Rodriguez on the field and Dudek off it, Arizona recruiting has entered a new era, as the Wildcats have taken to social media as well as any staff in the country. Dudek and the Arizona digital media gurus knew what kind of jump start a win at Oregon could give the Wildcats, and they were ready.

"I think that's really every game," Dudek said of being prepped with recruiting material, win or lose. "But the Oregon game is certainly a big one and could be a jump starter, whether it's for a week, a season or forever."

Referencing everything from Duck Hunt to Duck Dynasty and the Ducks' "Win The Day" motto, Arizona flooded twitter in the immediate aftermath of the game.



"Early in the week we say, 'When we win this game, I want to put something out," Dudek said. "They were loaded on my phone ready to go as soon as the clock hit double zeroes. It would have been quickly deleted if we didn't win, but every now and then we want to take advantage of the national stage."

As for a tangible recruiting effect, Dudek said the win against Oregon definitely provided one, and USC coming to town this weekend provides another national spotlight game against a nationally recognized opponent.

After Thursday's win, Arizona coaches threw a small wrinkle in their recruiting plans, hitting a few additional prospects on the way home in order to take advantage of their on-field momentum. Additionally, a win like that means more attention from recruits as well. Dudek said that several recruits they have on their board but weren't sure if the interest was mutual reached out with congratulatory messages on Friday, and the number of recruits looking to attend this weekend's game increased dramatically. Usually hovering somewhere between 60 and 80 recruits per game, Arizona is scheduled to host more than 125 prospects for its USC game.

"It certainly opened up the communication lines with certain guys, which is nice," Dudek said of the big win. "All of the sudden, they want to come to Tucson and check out a game, and getting them here on campus is always big for us."

Dudek believes this game will likely rank among the top five during the Rodriguez tenure in terms of the number of recruits in attendance, and a win could have the digital staff working overtime, as the Arizona coaches would be able to hit a bye week -- and the recruiting trail -- with plenty of momentum and, thanks to Dudek and company, plenty of digital ammunition.

"We have to be different," Dudek said. "We don't have the tradition of USC or the uniforms of Oregon. We need to bring that and grab national attention. Social media is the most powerful tool for sales, advertising and for recruiting right now."

Help is on the way: Pac-12 

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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video
Through six weeks of the 2014 season, every program has flashed at least one weakness or one position where depth is needed in a hurry. While the incoming batch of 2015 recruits won't help the prospects of the 2014 team, some will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact the following year, as they'll provide depth -- or perhaps jump into starting roles -- at positions of need. Here is a look through the Pac-12 at the biggest areas of need for each program, and the 2015 recruits on the way to provide help.

Oregon, UCLA still in playoff race

October, 8, 2014
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If Oregon wins the rest of its games, it's going to be in the College Football Playoff. You can take that to the bank. If UCLA wins the rest of its games, it's going to be in the College Football Playoff. You can take that to the bank.

So, really, little has changed for Oregon and UCLA as they prepare to square off Saturday in the Rose Bowl, despite both suffering upset losses at home last weekend. They are still within shouting distance of the top 10, and a victory over the other will be the sort of marquee win that should carry plenty of weight with the selection committee when it publishes its first rankings on Oct. 28.

But the stakes, in fact, might be a little higher. A second loss -- while perhaps not catastrophic, based on how the season has gone in the Pac-12 and nationally -- would leave no margin for error as the No. 12 Ducks and No. 18 Bruins try to win their respective divisions in the conference.

The big picture, with teams such as Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas A&M also losing last weekend, offers something tangible a coach can sell to his players -- no potential season endgame has been taken off the table. The only conference that might win a final record tie against the Pac-12 is the SEC, and that might be limited only to SEC West teams. Even then, if Oregon or UCLA end up with the same record as, say, Mississippi State, both would have a strong case based on having a far more ambitious nonconference schedules and the Pac-12's nine-game conference slate.

We don't yet know if the selection committee will bow to the SEC orthodoxy of "just because." It might not, if "just because" is the foundation of the SEC argument, as opposed to what happened during an entire season.

There's already a lot of blood in the water and there's likely to be much more carnage. In other words, things likely will only get more muddled and confusing.

"There are not many teams out there that don't have a wound," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "It's how you recover. It's how you respond."

That said, prolonged consideration of the big picture is not what any coach wants. They want laser-like focus: on the immediate present, on Saturday's opponent, this practice, this play at practice.

"I think it's really important that we don't think about that or talk about [the playoff]," Mora said. "It's counterproductive to what you are trying to accomplish. It's great for college football. It stirs up interest and it keep your fans involved and gives commentators something to talk about that's exciting. But for the teams, at least for our team, it's just so important that we work the process."

That process is about correcting issues and moving on and not looking back in mourning over what transpired last week. Both the Ducks and Bruins are desperately trying to solve problems on their offensive lines and improve communication on defense after both broke down several times while losing to Arizona and Utah, respectively.

While both coaches are aware that their fans are wringing their hands over last week's surprising results, they also note that this fits in with one of the major preseason themes: The Pac-12 is as deep in quality teams this season as it has ever been, and there are no easy weeks.

"The reality of what coaches were saying in the preseasons media stuff is coming to fruition," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "There is a ton of parity in this conference."

Oregon or UCLA still could rise above that parity and reenter the national dialogue. But that process starts only with a win on Saturday.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 8, 2014
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The choo-choo train left right on time, a ticket costs only your mind;
The driver said, 'Hey man, we go all the way,' of course we were willing to pay.

Leading off

Depth chart Wednesday is upon us. Below you'll find links to all the depth charts of teams in action this week (except for UCLA, per usual, which doesn't offer a weekly depth chart). Four teams are on bye this week, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State and Utah, so we'll update them next week. Here are the links to the teams playing this week. Notes
Heisman update

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered his first significant setback in pursuit of a Heisman Trophy with the Ducks' loss to Arizona last week. He dropped to third in the ESPN.com poll and also in the Heisman Pundit straw poll. Their weekly poll consists of 10 Heisman voters. Here are this week's results (first place votes in parentheses).
  1. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia — 23 (5)
  2. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State — 18 (4)
  3. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 11 (1)
  4. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin — 6
  5. (tie) Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn — 1
    Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama — 1

Plenty of opportunities for Mariota to climb back up the rankings. And the same can be said for UCLA's Brett Hundley, with both teams squaring off this weekend at The Rose Bowl.

Something worth noting about these two Pac-12 QBs:

 

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

In honor of Mike MacIntyre's $10,000 fine, now seems like an appropriate time to bring up some of the worst Pac-12 officiating moments in recent years.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 7

October, 7, 2014
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Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Friday

Washington State (2-4 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) at No. 25 Stanford (3-2, 1-1)
  • Washington State is averaging 523.0 passing yards per game (easily the most in the country), while the Stanford defense ranks second nationally allowing just 107.4 passing yards per game.
  • If he keeps his current pace (508.7 passing yards per game), WSU QB Connor Halliday would finish the regular season with 6,104 passing yards. The current FBS single-season record is owned by B.J. Symons, who threw for 5,833 yards for Mike Leach at Texas Tech in 2003. That total includes a bowl game.
  • Three WSU receivers -- No. 3 Vince Mayle (51), No. 6 Isiah Myers (45) and No. 9 River Cracraft (43) -- rank in the top 10 nationally in receptions.
  • In three games against Power 5 teams, Stanford is averaging 14.7 points per game -- sixth-worse among Power 5 teams. However, it's only allowing 14.3 in those games, which is sixth-best.
  • Dating back to 2004, Stanford has played the least amount of non-Saturday games among Pac-12 teams (5). It is 4-1 in such games.
  • Stanford (minus-4) and WSU (minus-7) have the worst turnover margins in the conference.
Saturday

No. 12 Oregon (4-1, 1-1) at No. 18 UCLA (4-1, 1-1)
  • Only 28 penalties have been committed by Oregon's opponents, the second-lowest amount in the Pac-12.
  • Oregon is averaging 3.4 points per drive, the most in the Pac-12.
  • UCLA is scoring on 35.9 percent of its drives, 10th in the Pac-12.
  • UCLA picks up at least one first down on 82.2 percent of its drives, the second-best mark in the conference.
  • UCLA's Brett Hundley (21) and Oregon's Marcus Mariota (15) are two of the four-most sacked quarterbacks from FBS schools. The other two (Wake Forest's John Wolford and Tennessee's Justin Worley) play on teams with losing records.
Washington (4-1, 0-1) at California (4-1, 2-1)
  • Washington is averaging 4.99 yards per play on offense, the lowest number in the Pac-12. Cal averages 7.29 yards, the second-most behind Oregon.
  • Cal QB Jared Goff's Raw QBR (89.2) is the highest in the Pac-12 and second nationally to only Clemson's Deshaun Watson.
  • Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton are both tied for third nationally with seven sacks. Goff has been sacked eight times all season.
  • Dating back to at least 2004, Cal is the only school in the country to win consecutive games in which it allowed 56 or more points. In fact, only 14 other teams in that span have won one game allowing that many points.
  • Cal has scored on 50 percent of its drives, second to only Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-12.
USC (3-2, 2-1) at No. 10 Arizona (5-0, 2-0)
  • USC averages 6.41 plays per drive, the highest in the Pac-12, but only slightly more than Arizona (6.26).
  • USC's three-and-out percentage of 21.9 ranks 10th-worst in the Pac-12.
  • USC's Cody Kessler is the only quarterback in the country with more than seven touchdown passes that hasn't thrown an interception or fumbled.
  • Arizona is one of five undefeated teams left that have played all its games against FBS competition.
  • Arizona averages 29 first downs a game, third-most in the country.
Past weeks
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
On the craziest weekend in college football it wouldn't been silly of us to predict a Hail Mary, because that seems to be what the Pac-12 does these days. The SEC might have speed. The Big 12 might have some high-powered offenses. But the Pac-12? Oh, it has cornered the market on the Hail Mary.

So it should come as no surprise that after Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong came away with a 46-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to lead the Sun Devils to a 38-34 road win over No. 16 USC that he also came away as the Pac-12 Blog's Play of the Week winner.

Strong leads the conference in receiving yards per game (122.8) but it was that 46-yard catch that really made a national statement, pushing the Sun Devils to No. 20 in the AP poll a week after they dropped out of the polls following a thumping by UCLA.

Strong's Hail Mary reception from Mike Bercovici won by garnering 35 percent of the Pac-12 Blog readers' vote. A congratulations to Utah's Dres Anderson, who came in second to Strong. Both plays were impressive, but it's easy to see how Strong came away with the most votes. Strong's was a game winner and he came down with the ball amidst three defenders, while Anderson's wasn't a game winner and was only caught between two UCLA defensive backs.

But at this point in the season, the only reasonable question now is: How many more Hail Marys will we see? Will there be a week when readers must choose between two Hail Marys? Could the season get that crazy?

We can only hope.
Is there any topic that supplies more inspirational quotes than adversity? Nope. That makes perfect sense, of course. Life knocks everyone down at some point, and, by definition, that is when a person or group most needs inspiration. You either get inspired and get up and fight back or you stay down and accept something less than success.

Oregon and UCLA might or might not need or want a chorus of uplifting quotes ("Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records!"), but both are facing unexpected adversity. They started the season as the Pac-12's top two contenders for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Each was led by a quarterback who was expected to contend for the Heisman Trophy before becoming an NFL first-round draft pick. Yet both were upset at home Saturday by substantial underdogs, and both QBs saw their Heisman stock plummet.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota (pictured) and Brett Hundley took their lumps this weekend and now face each other with their playoff and Heisman Trophy lives on the line.
The Ducks and Bruins meet on Saturday in what might end up functioning as an elimination game for the CFP and the Heisman. The winner moves on, the loser might want to punch someone effusing more unsolicited quotes on overcoming adversity.

But it's more than that. Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley are celebrated three-year starters, class guys respected on and off the field and fantastic athletes who are trying to establish their longterm legacy before turning pro. Yet neither has won a Pac-12 title. Both figure to view the season as a failure without it. In football, the ultimate team game, it's rare for a college player to be canonized as an individual without his team achieving a high degree of success -- or at the very least dramatically exceeding preseason expectations.

The loser of this game is unlikely to dramatically exceed preseason expectations. The quarterback of the loser might only be remembered by his program as a fine but not special player. The winner still has a chance to have a plaque hanging in a prominent place in his team's Hall of Fame, a guy who might be recalled in 50 years by today's college students to their grandchildren -- "Sonny, did I ever tell you about the time Hundley/Mariota threw a touchdown pass and kicked a field goal on the same play?!"

Sure, making draw-a-line-in-the-sand judgments at midseason, particularly this year in the Pac-12, when the eventual champion seems more likely to have three losses than just one, is potentially overkill. The winner Saturday could still implode, and the loser might still find misfortune to be but a stepping stone to fortune. But it's difficult not to see Mariota-Hundley head-to-head as not being a major chapter in the Pac-12 season. At the very least, it figures to set a strong narrative as the leaves start to change and Halloween approaches.

This is after all, the Year of the Quarterback in the Conference of Quarterbacks, and these two are the bell cows, the leaders of perhaps the most talented collection of signal-callers one conference has ever had in a single season. What has become evident as both aspire toward an individual and team legacy, is that erratic offensive line play is taking its toll on their performance.

In the preseason, Oregon was touted as owning one of the nation's best offensive lines, while UCLA's was viewed as a candidate for most improved, considering it started three true freshmen in 2013 and had quasi-respectable results. Injuries have hit both, particularly the Ducks, who are currently without their top three offensive tackles. But even allowing for that, the resulting play as been underwhelming, and that has burdened both QBs.

UCLA yielded an astounding 10 sacks in the loss to Utah on Saturday, and it was clear that Hundley was too often eschewing his downfield options to try to preserve his health against the relentless Utes rush. Mariota has been sacked 12 times in the past two games, the final one against Arizona causing a game-ending lost fumble.

The Bruins are surrendering 4.6 sacks per game, which ranks 123rd in the nation. The Ducks are giving up 3.0 sacks per game, which ranks 110th. Those are not numbers you'd expect from national-title contenders, and it's impossible to imagine that a QB hitting the turf that many times per game is going to win the Heisman, or survive the season for that matter.

Last year, Arizona State ranked last in the conference, yielding 2.93 sacks per game. The Bruins' young and much-maligned unit surrendered 2.77 per game, while Oregon gave up just 1.38, which ranked third in the conference and 29th in the nation.

Hundley and Mariota, in fact, are just the biggest-name victims in a conference-wide problem. Thus far, Colorado is yielding the fewest sacks per game -- 1.3 -- and that only ranks 30th in the nation. Nine teams rank 54th or worse in sacks given up per game.

Common sense dictates that a QB functions less effectively when he's getting buried in the turf.

Mariota probably would be glad to know that UCLA ranks last in the Pac-12 and 100th in the nation with 1.4 sacks per game, while Hundley will be less thrilled with the Ducks' 3.2 sacks per game, which ranks third in the conference and 19th in the nation. Both defenses will try to exploit struggling offensive lines, and that means both quarterbacks will be called upon to meet that challenge, to use their athleticism and instincts to buy time or break away and improvise.

As Ovid observed, "There is no excellence uncoupled with difficulties."

The more excellent quarterback likely carries the day in the Rose Bowl Saturday. It could be a season-defining moment for his team, and a legacy-defining performance for the individual.
Connor HallidayAP Photo/Dean HareWashington State QB Connor Halliday set the FBS single-game passing record with 734 yards.
The Pac-12 typically has great quarterbacks and good depth at the position, but the 2014 season is particularly stacked behind center. With a few All-American candidates and early NFL draft picks, it’s almost difficult to keep up with who’s doing what to which secondary.

No worries. We’ve got you covered. Each week, we will provide you a top-five ranking of the Pac-12 QBs.

Now, it won’t always be a 1 to 5 ranking according to the expected pecking order at season’s end or NFL draft lists. It will react heavily to the preceding week. And we’ll try to spread some love.



Inactive Week 5: Cyler Myles, Washington.

To see last week’s rankings, click here.
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LOS ANGELES -- In the literal sense, Arizona State coach Todd Graham was talking about Mike Bercovici, his backup quarterback turned Hail Mary hero this past Saturday night at the Los Angeles Coliseum. This was minutes after Bercovici connected with Jaelen Strong on a 46-yard bomb as the clock expired to give the Sun Devils an unlikely 38-34 win over the Trojans.

But in an allegorical, big-picture sense, Graham was really talking about his Sun Devils.

“Everyone told him he should transfer,” said Graham, who has gone with Bercovici the past two games while starter Taylor Kelly recovers from a broken foot. “What if he had quit? Every kid should learn from him. Every quarterback should learn from him. To just up and quit when things get hard? Man, if Mike Bercovici would have quit, he would have missed out on the best football moment of his life.”

And therein lies the metaphor for the 2014 Sun Devils. Let’s be clear -- ASU got absolutely blasted two weeks ago on a Thursday night, nationally televised game at home against UCLA. The Bruins trucked ASU in a 62-27 victory, and the Sun Devils' national reputation spiraled with the loss.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
AP Photo/Gus RuelasBackup QB Mike Bercovici threw for 510 yards and five touchdowns in Arizona State's upset win over USC.
But this is the Pac-12 -- where no lead is safe and fortunes can turn with every pass attempt. This is where the concept of “culture change” comes into play. Some veteran ASU players mentioned in passing that the pre-Graham Sun Devils might not have been able to recover quite so well after a brutal loss -- let alone win at USC with their backup quarterback.

That attitude doesn’t fly in Tempe, Arizona, these days.

“That would be totally unacceptable,” offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said. “The way our guys work, we know it comes down to each guy waiting for his opportunity. We didn’t play our best against UCLA and we had to respond. I told them to play every play like it’s going to make a difference in this game.”

The past couple of weeks have put Norvell’s skills to the test. He said that despite losing Kelly, whose status for ASU’s home game against Stanford on Oct. 18 is still in question following a bye this week, the “entire playbook is open” to Bercovici. Though, he clearly has a different set of tools than the more mobile Kelly.

“We do our best to play to his strengths,” Norvell said. “Credit to USC, who didn’t let us run the ball as well as we wanted. We had to throw the football, and Mike won us the game.”

All he did was throw for 510 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions on the road against a ranked team. In any other conference in the country, those numbers put you in contention for player of the year. But in the Pac-12, it doesn’t even get you offensive player of the week.

Not only was the “Jael Mary,” as it’s been cleverly dubbed, a signature moment for the Sun Devils, it was also a shining moment for Bercovici, who once played a Pop Warner game at the Coliseum and always dreamed of an opportunity to play there in college.

“Once Taylor went down, I got a text from [offensive lineman] Jamil Douglas that said, ‘You ready?'” Bercovici said. “And I knew all those guys had my back. We’re going to move the chains no matter who is in there.”

The bye week comes at an optimal time for the Sun Devils. Having just played two emotionally draining games -- one good, one not -- they have more time to scheme for Stanford’s defense and get healthier.

Further, they are right back in the thick of a very muddled South Division. At 4-1, 2-1 in conference play, they have showdowns with Stanford, at Washington and home to Utah before a nonconference meeting with Notre Dame. They have a tiebreaker over the Trojans, but not against the Bruins. In other words, the Sun Devils can ill afford any more losses if they hope to be back in the Pac-12 championship game.

And that journey starts with a home date with the Cardinal -- a team that knocked the Sun Devils around twice last year.

“They are the defending Pac-12 champions so the road still goes through them,” Norvell said. “It’s good to get some extra time to formulate an attack. Build on our strengths and improve on our weaknesses. But you see the heart and character of this team. Never put any limitations on them.”

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

October, 7, 2014
Oct 7
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The wild weekend in the Pac-12 wasn't limited to the field, as the recruiting trail saw some significant action as well. Three impact commitments landed in the conference, while three more ESPN 300 prospects took official visits and several big wins by certain programs made an impact with recruits.


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