1. Oregon offense vs. Stanford defense: A supersonic matchup
The first three installments of this Stanford-Oregon rivalry focused on a battle between two high-powered offenses: The Cardinal featured Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck, while the Ducks lit up the scoreboard under Chip Kelly. Starting in 2012, the Pac-12 North clash took on a decidedly different tone as Stanford's defense morphed into an elite unit. Suddenly, the headline attraction was Oregon's blur attack against the Cardinal's stifling defense. That's what we're going to get again here in 2014, and the matchup may be better than it's ever been. Stanford's defense has never performed so well statistically (they're leading the nation allowing only 3.7 yards per play), while Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is leading the nation with his 192.2 quarterback rating. Simply put, this is another round of a supersonic matchup, and it's the first time that both clashing entities have been ranked No. 1 in the nation. So don't let the Cardinal's three losses fool you: This particular battle is in its prime.
2. Can Oregon get the Stanford monkey off its back?
Mariota has never beaten the Cardinal as the Ducks' starting QB. And in all of those losses, the weapons around him were far more experienced than what he's working with now. However, players like running back Royce Freeman, Devon Allen and Dwayne Stanford -- though inexperienced -- could be what Mariota and Oregon need to get past this Stanford roadblock. In the past two years, Oregon has lost to Stanford in two different ways, according to Oregon coach Mark Helfrich. In 2012, he said, the Ducks didn't play very well and they also didn't play very hard. In the 2013 matchup, he thought his team played hard but didn't finish well in the chances they had. Can they play hard and finish this season? So far the offense has done a pretty good job of that and the defense has done enough, too. But they haven't put it together like that against Stanford in a while. Could this be the year?
3. Stanford's decimated defensive line
In a piece earlier this week, we discussed the formula that Stanford's defense has successfully employed to stop Oregon the past two seasons. In 2012, that plan was rooted in dominant, block-swallowing play along the defensive line. In 2013, since the Cardinal's defensive line was decimated by injury, Stanford's linebackers took on greater responsibility. Well, the Cardinal is again battling serious health concerns along the defensive front here in 2014. Versatile lineman Aziz Shittu has just been ruled out for the rest of the season, while David Parry -- the critical rock in the middle -- is questionable for Saturday because of a leg injury.
If the 305-pound Parry does not play, the Cardinal will be forced to rely on 255-pound true freshman lineman Harrison Phillips, which can spell huge trouble against a suddenly-bruising Oregon rushing game (Royce Freeman doesn't run like a true freshman, and David Shaw admitted that was "disheartening"). If Stanford can't stop the Ducks' rushing attack, well, you know what's next ... his initials are 'MM.' Mark Helfrich is certainly hoping to see the domino effect. The Cardinal's defense is vulnerable if they can't stop the run, so their health up front is a key variable in this game.
4. The pressures on both sides of this game
If Oregon walks away with a win, there's a really good chance the Ducks move into No. 4 after this weekend, considering the Nos. 3-4 matchup between Auburn and Ole Miss on Saturday. But with a loss, the Ducks drop and a two-loss Pac-12 championship team making the College Football Playoff doesn't seem likely. If the committee had to choose between a two-loss SEC team (even if it's the second in the playoff) and a two-loss Pac-12 champion (even if the only team considered), the scales would probably tilt toward the SEC. On the other side, you've got Stanford who could salvage -- at least emotionally -- part of this season by a) ruining Oregon's and b) avoiding a fourth loss, which would be the worst since the 2009 season when Stanford lost five games and c) pushing themselves ahead of Oregon in the North with no losses to North teams (but each would have two conference losses overall). Which team is going to be able to handle those kinds of pressures better?
5. Which Stanford offense will show up?
Will we see the Cardinal attack that laid massive eggs against USC, Notre Dame and Arizona State? Or will we see the completely revamped unit that sliced like a hot knife through Oregon State's butter this past weekend, averaging 8.2 yards per play and also scoring from the red zone before garbage time? Shaw and offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren orchestrated a major rehaul of Stanford's offense before last week's game, and the resulting focus on perimeter athleticism (combined with a healthy dose of tight end action over the middle) seemed to make an excellent use of the Cardinal's personnel. The Ducks' defense hasn't been great this year, so this will be an interesting litmus test for both teams. Stanford will either replicate last year's ball control success by moving the chains in new ways, or Oregon will capitalize on a Cardinal offense that hasn't found a consistent identity yet this season. That fork in the road may end up determining this game.
In his first three seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, things just worked. Not everything -- there are some obvious examples to the contrary -- but Stanford’s two Pac-12 titles and 34-7 record came with relatively few setbacks. It was, and remains, easy to accept Shaw as one of the country's bright football minds.
We've learned a lot about the even-keeled, son of a coach since he took the reins from Jim Harbaugh, but we've yet to see him coach with the Cardinal's back against the wall like it is right now. That's part of the intrigue of Saturday's highly-anticipated game at No. 5 Oregon: How will Stanford (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) respond facing what could be interpreted as a return to mediocrity?
A win and the Cardinal will be right back to where they finished the past two seasons -- on top of the Pac-12 North. Having something tangible to play for isn't underrated. Shaw would receive a bulk of the credit for navigating a difficult stretch and turning things around in time for who has become Stanford's biggest rival.
A loss and Shaw would have a new season-high in that column with three regular-season games to play. The rest of the season would carry little significance -- at least compared to the past few years -- and it'd be fair to ponder Stanford's long-term trajectory.
The contrast in direction based on the outcome is more significant than any regular-season game Stanford has played in recent years.
After the most successful four-year stretch in school history, there was bound to be decline at some point. College football is just cyclical like that and Stanford, with its stringent admissions requirements, will never be immune to those natural ebbs and flows.
From a national perspective, all the pressure is on Oregon (7-1, 4-1). It's the Ducks that are still in the College Football Playoff picture. It's the Ducks with the Heisman Trophy favorite in quarterback Marcus Mariota and it's the Ducks fighting the perception that Stanford is their kryptonite.
The last two years, Stanford has controlled the line of scrimmage against Oregon and bullied its way to wins thanks to a reliable power running game and good defense. The defense remains -- in fact this defense might be Shaw's best -- but the offense no longer is equipped to execute the way it did with Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney running between the tackles.
Up through Stanford's 26-10 loss to Arizona State on Oct. 18, it appeared Shaw was set on sticking with what had worked the past few years, but in last week's 38-14 win against Oregon State that changed. It doesn't show up in the box score, but Stanford's willingness to get away from the power game and prioritize getting the ball in space outside the numbers was on full display.
"You have to be able to [win games] in different ways," Shaw said. "Because you’re not always the same team that you were last time."
The hindsight game is pointless, but it's hard not to think about how the Cardinal might have fared against USC or Notre Dame with its adjusted offensive approach. It's not a complete overhaul, which means Stanford will still rely on a lot of its principles against the Ducks: "Controlling the ball, running the ball, being efficient, being good on third down, scoring touchdowns in the red zone," Shaw said.
And, oh yeah, try to slow down a healthy Mariota, whom Shaw praised heavily.
"In the past couple years, he’s been the best player in college football and I really don’t think it’s been that close," Shaw said. "There have been a lot of guys that people have fallen in and out of love with, but this guy has been consistent."
So has Stanford.
Washington at Colorado, Pac-12 Network
The Buffaloes are desperate for a conference win, and given Washington’s horrendous offensive struggles, this looks to be their best remaining chance. The Huskies can still wreak havoc defensively, though, so they’re the favorites entering this game. Cyler Miles will be back under center for Washington, which will try to escape Boulder with greater ease than UCLA, who beat the Buffs in double overtime, did last week.
USC at Washington State, Pac-12 Network
Connor Halliday's passing yardage totals continue to light up box scores on a weekly basis, but Cougars losses are piling up just as quickly. Washington State must win out just to finish .500 this season, and that outcome appears highly unlikely. USC might be hurting after a close loss at Utah that also cost them left tackle Chad Wheeler (torn ACL), but there’s a lot here for Wazzu to handle between Cody Kessler, his explosive targets, and Javorius Allen.
Stanford at Oregon, FOX
Don’t let the Cardinal’s three losses fool you: This is still a titanic match-up between the nation’s most efficient defense (Stanford is allowing only 3.7 yards per play, best in FBS) and its best quarterback (Marcus Mariota’s 192.2 rating is No. 1). However, it’s the other side of the ball that might ultimately decide the winner in the Ducks’ revenge effort. Stanford’s offense, though recently revamped, is averaging a league-worst 14.7 points per game on the road, while Oregon’s defense has not been airtight this season.
California at Oregon State, Pac-12 Network
Sean Mannion will likely break the Pac-12’s career record for passing yards in this game, as the current mark, held by USC’s Matt Barkley, is just over 200 yards away. Fittingly, the quarterback on the other side -- Cal sophomore Jared Goff -- has a legitimate shot to re-break that record if he’s still around in two years. This one will be fun because it features two talented quarterbacks and an air of desperation, as both teams need a win to stay on reasonable track for bowl eligibility.
Arizona at UCLA, ESPN
It’s put up-or-shut up time in Westwood. The Bruins have squeaked by two lower-tier Pac-12 teams in Cal and Colorado. The road becomes more difficult with resurgent Arizona visiting. The Wildcats fired on all cylinders at Washington State last week, and Anu Solomon is certainly excited to test the shaky Bruins defense with the likes of Nick Wilson and Austin Hill. Meanwhile, Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III has forced five fumbles this season, while UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley has turned the ball over eight times. Keep an eye on the Bruins’ ability to protect the football.
Utah at Arizona State, Fox Sports 1
So, how much has Arizona State’s defense — particularly its stoutness against the run — improved? We’ll find out when Utah’s Devontae Booker (leading the Pac-12 at 166 rushing yards per conference game) tests Tempe to wrap up Saturday. The Sun Devils had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight games before stifling Stanford. Washington also had some success against them on the ground last week (but none through the air), so this duel in the desert represents a true litmus test for both teams. The winner will be in excellent position when it comes to the race for the Pac-12 South crown.
Friday means picks! Big picks, small picks, upset picks and more. The Pac-12 blog released its picks Thursday morning with a little debate among the higher-profile games. And as we do each Friday, here are some picks from national writers and those who cover the conference.
The FOX pair of Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman are in sync with their Pac-12 picks. Both like Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona to beat Stanford, Utah and UCLA, respectively. Here is Feldman's take on the ASU-Utah matchup:
As good as the Utes D is playing, I think ASU QB Taylor Kelly can handle the heat. The Sun Devils have had fits dealing with the run, and Utah's Devontae Booker has been outstanding, but look for ASU to be able to give more focus to containing him since the Utes’ passing game is hampered further without leading receiver Dres Anderson (out for the season with a knee injury).
- Most of the USA Today staff likes ASU and Arizona.
- The Athlon Folks like an Oregon sweep.
- Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman-Review sees a tight game between California and Oregon State, but is picking the Golden Bears.
- If you're making friendly wagers, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News says take the Buffaloes and the points against Washington.
ESPN's Mel Kiper has released his latest Big Board projections, and as of right now, the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft will be from the Pac-12. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is No. 1 overall, followed by USC's Leonard Williams. Here's Kiper's take on the Oregon quarterback:
He combines above-average accuracy and anticipation with an ability to get through his progressions and elite athleticism. How well he can take apart a defense with tools other than his legs matters in terms of how he is viewed as a prospect, but his ability to throw on the run or simply take off and pick up chunk yardage is a major plus.
It's an insider piece, so I can't give away the farm. (Hint: my password is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Safe to say these two aren't the only Pac-12 players who appear in his top 25. There are five more (Washington fans, you'll be pleased).
Mel Kiper's Big Board. pic.twitter.com/YryhXlFapA— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 30, 2014
- Taking stock of Rich Rodriguez's tenure at Arizona.
- Taylor Kelly looks to kick off some of the rust.
- Cal's defense prepping for a struggling OSU offense.
- Colorado liking its running back-by-committee approach.
- Some video of Mark Helfrich talking Stanford.
- Some Oregon State notes and injury updates.
- Plenty riding on the Oregon game for the Cardinal.
- Jim Mora offers some thoughts on social media.
- Despite the close losses, USC's spirit is intact.
- Some chalk-talk on Devontae Booker's touchdown against USC.
- Some video of Chris Petersen's gaggle with the media.
- Connor Halliday wishes he had wins, not records.
Lisa Horne, proprietor of PigSkinGrind.com, offers up some awards and highlights thus far this season. She's a Heisman voter, so for what it's worth, she taps Mariota for having the top Heisman moment so far.
Speaking of Mariota ...
Today is Marcus Mariota's 21st bday. Helfrich isn't worried he'd go wild tonight. "I think he and Hroniss might share a Saltine cracker."— Andrew Greif (@AndrewGreif) October 30, 2014
“Oh my gosh, it’s a huge honor and I’m really excited,” Chaffin said. “There are a ton of great athletes that are selected to play in this game, have already played in this game, and I’m just excited to be a part of it,”
The Under Armour All-America Game is not new to Charlotte Christian School. Chaffin follows Georgia freshman tight end Jeb Blazevich as the second player from the Southeast Charlotte-area private school to be selected as one of 90 prospects to participate.
“I think it’s a huge deal. It’s just a testament to our coaches and the type of players we are putting out. Having back-to-back Under Armour All-Americans, I don’t think a lot of schools can say, much less a small private school. It’s just a have testament to what we are doing here, and what we are building.”
Making the game was a goal for the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Chaffin, who is ranked No. 290 in the ESPN 300.
“When I watched Jeb [Blazevich] at the game last year, I always had the thought in my head that I would really like to play in this game. It was the game I always wanted to play in, and when I called them up and told them after talking to Mr. [Craig] Haubert, they were just so excited.”
On the recruiting front, Chaffin will attend Stanford, where he committed in June over offers from Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and several others. While he will be a long way from his East Coast home, it was an opportunity he simply couldn’t pass up.
“For me, it was the best combination of academics and athletics I could find. I think Stanford breeds greatness, and if you want to be great, you have to go to a place that produces greatness.”
Eight questions with Chaffin:
Is there any one player you are looking forward to going up against at the Under Armour Game or practices?
Chaffin: I don’t know a whole lot about the rosters yet. I know there are going to be some beastly D-tackles there. Just going against those guys in practice and testing my skills against them will be fun.
If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be and why?
Chaffin: Well it all starts up front, so it would probably be my buddy Nick Wilson, who committed to Stanford with me. He’s a guard/center combo, so I think the two of us could be a solid start and do some special things.
Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?
Chaffin: Jeb Blazevich. I’m going with my buddy, Jeb Blazevich. I think he’s just a special player on and off the field. Obviously, I’m a little biased, but he’s a great kid and I think he’s going to do big things.
What is your earliest football memory?
Chaffin: Probably seventh grade. I was starting and it was a seventh and eighth-grade league. The guy I was going against was huge, and that was when I really had to test if this game was for me. I ended up doing really well, not giving up any sacks. That game proved to me that I could go up against bigger and better athletes and still succeed.
Which football player did you idolize or want to be like when you were a kid?
Chaffin: Growing up, he didn’t play my position but I loved Tim Tebow.(Chaffin grew up a Florida fan.) It was just the way he went about the game and the way he went about his business. And the type of guy he is off the field, he was somebody I wanted to be like.
If you could take on any pro player in their sport, who would it be?
Chaffin: I’d probably golf with Tiger [Woods]. Golf is one of things that is tough. I would like to watch him go about his craft, and he is such a great golfer that it would be fun to go out and compete.
What number do you wear and why?
Chaffin: I wear 65 in honor of my former offensive line coach, Coach [Jim] Durning. When I came here to Charlotte Christian in eighth grade, he was the first person to take me under his wing and just teach me everything he knew. I think he’s a big reason I am the player I am today.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Chaffin: I like to hunt a lot. I’m a big hunter. I’m an outdoors guy.
Does UCLA’s season come down to Saturday against Arizona?
Miller: Yes, in terms of living up to preseason expectations, though we are not as quick to write off the Bruins as many seem ready to do. UCLA should be 7-1 right now, losing only to Oregon, so they are only an upset home loss to Utah behind schedule. A 10-2 regular-season finish, even if that doesn’t include a South Division title, wouldn’t rate a major disappointment, as it likely would include a top-10 ranking. But a third loss crosses the over-under threshold in a negative way. So, absolutely, the Bruins need to beat Arizona at home and stay alive in the South Division race.
Jennings: I don’t know. I agree with Ted that this team should be 7-1 right now, but the difference between a two-loss and a three-loss season isn’t that huge. If they lose to Arizona and then run the table with huge wins over Washington, USC and Stanford (going 3-0 against California teams this season), that could still be considered a small success in a disappointing year.
Might Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly have a quick hook if he struggles early against Utah? And is the same true for Utah QB Travis Wilson?
Jennings: Best-case scenario, neither struggles. But if we’re playing the negative-Nancy card here, I would say that if both struggle, I’d have my money on Kyle Whittingham standing by Wilson longer than Graham would stand by Kelly. Graham has stood by the fact that Bercovici is the backup, no matter what. Whittingham, on the other hand, has this open battle in which neither has really taken the reins. Wilson took a step forward last weekend and I think he’s going to try to keep that process moving forward this weekend, even if that means letting him have a bit longer of a leash.
Does Marcus Mariota need to beat Stanford to win the Heisman Trophy and establish his longterm Oregon legacy?
Miller: Probably, but not necessarily. Probably in that if he goes 0-3 against Stanford in his career, that will diminish his national standing significantly. But what if Oregon loses 42-40 and Mariota throws four TD passes and runs for another? If the Ducks lose this game because their inconsistent defense gets trenched, that shouldn’t be on Mariota. But if Mariota puts up the middling-to-poor numbers he did in the previous two games against Stanford, he will have a lot of ground to make up to get invited to New York.
Jennings: I don’t see how Mariota doesn’t make it to New York this year. Statistically, he’s the best quarterback in the nation. He has 24 touchdown passes and one interception. His touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio is twice as good as the No. 2 guy on the list. But there are always going to be reasons why he’s not going to get some people's votes, whether it’s because they didn’t see his late games or the national perception of the Pac-12 vs. SEC. I don’t know if beating or losing to Stanford will change any of that (though the people who wouldn’t vote for him certainly will use that in some of their reasoning). And as far as his career stuff, on Tuesday, Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said Mariota needs to do nothing else to cement his spot in Oregon history. I’d agree with that. He could’ve left after last season and I think he’d still be a player everyone would be talking about for the next decade. Win or lose against Stanford, that doesn’t change.
Which struggling team finishes strongest: Cal, Colorado, Oregon State or Washington State?
Miller: I think Washington State is the best 2-6 team in the nation, so you get that, Cougs. And if Oregon State were healthy, the Beavers would be a seven-win or eight-win team. Colorado is much better than last year, even if it isn’t translating to wins. But I think Cal’s got a good shot to win two of its final four games and earn bowl eligibility after going 1-11 last year. That is huge. And even of the Bears only go 5-7, that would rate them as one of the nation’s most improved teams in Year 2 under Sonny Dykes.
Jennings: Darn it, Ted. We’re too agreeable today. WE NEED SOME DRAMA. But, I’m going with Cal, too. I think the Bears are the most improved team in the league and Jared Goff is the most improved player. The more this team plays together and jells, the more it will win. I see them winning two more games this season and bowling by year’s end.
Who is going to be this weekend’s biggest impact player?
Miller: Mariota vs. the Stanford defense is the obvious lead item, but I’m going with UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Touted as a Heisman candidate in the preseason, the campaign hasn’t gone the way he imagined it. Yet if he produces a tour de force performance in a win over Arizona, Hundley and the Bruins can quickly right their season. And UCLA won't win without him playing well.
Jennings: Whatever Utah receiver steps up in Dres Anderson’s absence. The Utah defense and special teams will show up -- that I’m almost sure of -- however, if the Utes want the win, they have to have someone because a deep field threat for Wilson to target. Running back Devontae Booker is going to do his thing, but if the Utes can only rely on a run game, their offense is going to be one-dimensional and Arizona State is going to get them every time. Whether it’s Kenneth Scott, Tim Patrick or Kenric Young, one of those guys needs to be the impact player of the weekend if the Utes want the W.
How many Pac-12 teams end up bowl-eligible?
Ted Miller: Nine. Eight is pretty much a certainty. The ninth will either be Cal or Oregon State.
Jennings: Ditto, Miller.
I don’t know if anyone has ever agreed with Ted so much in 1,000 words.
Mariota is again a Heisman frontrunner and one of the most accomplished quarterbacks ever to grace the green. Yeah, but those Stanford games …
Hogan has led the Cardinal to a couple of Rose Bowls, but has had his struggles with consistency. Yeah, but those Oregon games …
Hogan’s legend was born on Nov. 17, 2012, at Autzen Stadium. Still in a post Andrew Luck haze and unsatisfied with the results of Josh Nunes, Stanford turned to Hogan to make his first career start at home against Oregon State. A week later, he made his first road start in Eugene and helped engineer an unlikely 17-14 overtime win over the No. 1 Ducks. It was not a game the Cardinal were expected to win.
A year later at Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal knocked off the No. 2 Ducks 26-20. Again, Oregon was the favorite.
“Kevin has played probably two of the best games of his career against us,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said.
Against Oregon, Hogan is completing 65 percent of his throws with one touchdown, one interception and a pair of rushing touchdowns.
Conversely, Mariota has completed 57 percent of his throws against the Cardinal with three touchdowns, one interception and zero rushing touchdowns. Stanford -- the only Pac-12 team Mariota hasn’t beaten in his decorated career -- has been his Great White Buffalo (said in a whisper).
“Last year Marcus certainly didn’t play his best game, nor did everybody around him contribute to his best game,” Helfrich said.
Fair to assume, too, that his knee injury had something to do with it.
The quarterbacks once against take center stage this weekend as the No. 5 Ducks look to move up in the College Football Rankings. Stanford, the two-time defending league champs, is looking just to stay in the North Division race.
“It goes without saying our game plans are completely geared around Marcus,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We have that much respect/fear of him. It is respect. He is the focal point of what we do and the focal point of what they do. At times we’ve been able to contain him. We’ve been able to harass him.
“But in every game, there’s a streak where you can’t do anything about it. He gets out of the pocket and takes off. He makes a couple of great throws. He moves the team down the field in three plays and scores a touchdown. It’s understanding that that’s going to happen at some point during the game. And when it does happen, we give respect to a great player and we come back and try to get after him again.”
Stanford’s best weapon against Mariota the last couple of years has been its offense’s ability to sustain drives and the defense’s ability to get off the field. In the two previous meetings, Stanford converted 52 percent on third down, while the Ducks converted just 25 percent.
It’s that same consistency Hogan has shown the previous two years that Shaw is hoping for out of him on Saturday.
“I think the biggest thing is being opportunistic,” Shaw said. “If something was there he was getting the ball out of his hands and throwing it. If nothing is there pulling it down and running it. Being very decisive. Converting on third-downs. Controlling the ball and controlling the clock. It’s hard to separate Kevin from the entire offense. But that’s pretty much what’s been good about what we’ve done.”
Meanwhile, Mariota has gracefully answered all Heisman questions before and during the season, though he has made it quite clear that the stiff-arm is the furthest thing from his mind. Still, many voters -- both of the Heisman and Selection Committee variety -- will look to this game to see if he and the Ducks can cure their recent Stanford woes.
And when we look back on this era of Pac-12 football in a couple of decades, Mariota’s accomplishments won’t be whisked away. Nor will Hogan’s Rose Bowl appearances be redacted. Question is, will we still be saying, “Yeah, but ..."
Why Oregon will win: The Ducks' offense has looked confident, explosive and efficient since it started to get healthy across the offensive line. The new-look Stanford offense, while maybe better suited for the current personnel, might not be able to sustain those long drives that have worn down Oregon in the past. Stanford's defensive injuries are a concern as well. -- Kevin Gemmell
Why Arizona will win: Scooby Wright III and his gang of Wildcats are going to be too much for the UCLA offensive line. Anu Solomon, Nick Wilson and Austin Hill will all have big games for Arizona. Time to start making some sense out of the South. -- Chantel Jennings
Why UCLA will win: This feels a lot like 2012 -- a surging Arizona team coming to the Rose Bowl vs. a UCLA team that had had a couple of bad games. And we all remember what happened there (UCLA won 66-10). Different year, different players. I get all that. But last week was a wake-up call for the Bruins. This game is put-up or shut-up for them. -- Kevin Gemmell
Why Utah will win: With matching three-game win streaks, there's plenty to like about both teams, but Utah's Devontae Booker could be the difference. In his first year in the Pac-12, the juco transfer has averaged a conference-best 166.3 rushing yards per conference game. -- Kyle Bonagura
Why Arizona State will win: The Sun Devils have a chance to solve what's been a major weakness at home, and I think their upward trajectory indicates that they'll do just that. ASU's defense had given up over 200 rushing yards in four straight entering the Stanford game Oct. 18, and even Washington ran the ball with success against the Sun Devils last week. So on paper, it's a bad matchup since Devontae Booker has made Utah a successful rushing team, but I have a feeling ASU will capitalize on this big (late) stage to make a statement. Plus, Taylor Kelly will have shaken off last week's rust. -- David Lombardi
Why USC will win: Washington State's defense just doesn't have it. That's particularly bad news this week, since Cody Kessler delivered a notable performance in the face of Utah's ferocious pass rush during USC's loss last week. Kessler has a bevy of weapons in the passing game, and the Trojans also own balance thanks to running back Buck Allen. They will score plenty of points in Pullman, Washington, and there'll again be too much pressure on Connor Halliday's shoulders. -- David Lombardi
Why Cal will win: Both teams are limping into this game, but I think the Bears' limp is more figurative -- they've lost their past three games after a 4-1 start -- while the Beavers are limping because of injuries physical and mental. Cal also just strikes me as hungrier, though the Bears must contend with a strong Oregon State pass defense. The loser here seems unlikely to become bowl eligible, while the winner will need just one more victory over the homestretch. -- Ted Miller
Why Washington will win: The Huskies snap their two-game losing streak with a 17-point win over Colorado on the road. Hau'oli Kikaha, Danny Shelton and Shaq Thompson are going to have a huge game for the UW front seven defensively and the offense will take a step forward with more consistent play through four quarters (plus, it'll help that there won't be 95 mph winds, as there were in Seattle last week). -- Chantel Jennings
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.
At this point in the season, any injury to a starter can be crippling. And in the ridiculously competitive Pac-12 South, it can be downright devastating. Earlier in the week we learned that USC would be without left tackle Chad Wheeler for the rest of the season. Wednesday, another impact player was lost for the year when Utah announced that wide receiver Dres Anderson would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.
“We feel bad for Dres. It’s heartbreaking for that kid. He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s poured everything he had into this program for five years,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “Nobody’s outworked him. Nobody’s done more for us than Dres during that period of time. He’s taken care of business on and off the field. He’s got his degree already in hand.”
Here are some reactions:
- From The Associated Press.
- Matthew Piper of the Salt Lake Tribune has some player reactions.
- And for some pod reaction, our own Ted Miller was on ESPN Radio 700 in Salt Lake City.
The Utes, very much in the thick of things in the Pac-12 South -- and even the playoff conversation -- enter one of the toughest stretches in the country. After this week's trip to ASU, they are home to Oregon, at Stanford, home to Arizona and at Colorado to close out the season. According to FPI, the Utes have the second-toughest remaining schedule of the 25 ranked teams and the eighth toughest in the nation.
Catching you up on the Heisman race, which could take a turn this weekend with Stanford heading to Oregon, Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota is nearly neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. In the latest ESPN.com poll, Prescott leads Mariota by a single point.
Here’s how it shakes out (followed by total points):
- Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (45)
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon (44)
- Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin (18)
- Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama (13)
- Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (11)
No other Pac-12 players are receiving votes. Here’s guessing that if Mariota can finally get over his Stanford hump, he’ll enjoy a nice bump.
- The Wildcats don't mind some of the negativity they hear on the road.
- Todd Graham is confident heading into the Utah game.
- Cal's football team is getting all brainy.
- Mike MacIntyre still has confidence in Sefo Liufau.
- An Oregon practice report.
- Some Oregon State news and notes.
- Stanford will have to face Oregon with a defense that isn't full strength.
- Eddie Vanderdoes says it's do or die for the Bruins.
- Despite the wear and tear, Leonard Williams is living up to the hype.
- Lots of potential bowl landings for Utah.
- A couple of Washington post-practice videos.
- The Cougs got a little inspiration from a former coach.
I guess yesterday was National Cat Day? To which my beagle says, meh. The tweet is still funny, though.
ASU running back DJ Foster gets in a question for teammate Taylor Kelly. pic.twitter.com/gnIygvvhVC— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) October 29, 2014
But the pain still grows;
It's no stranger to you and me.
(I know you totally just did the drums in your head!)
It's depth chart Wednesday! And the people rejoiced. All 12 teams are in action again, so here are the most current depth charts for each team (except, as you know by now, UCLA, which doesn't do a weekly depth chart). As always, I've made some notes below.
- Arizona State (page 17 of the game notes)
- California (page 10 of the game notes)
- Oregon (page 11 of the game notes)
- Oregon State (page 28 of the game notes)
- USC (page 17 of the game notes)
- Utah (page 11 of the game notes)
- Washington (page 9 of the game notes)
- Washington State (page 11 of the game notes)
Notes (lots this week)
- At ASU, not too significant, but this is the first time since his injury that Taylor Kelly doesn't have an "or" by Mike Bercovici. Also encouraging that there doesn't seem to be any lingering effects of the helmet-to-helmet hit he took against Washington (see link below).
- Lots of movement at Oregon. For the first time this season, there's no longer an "or" at the running back spot. Royce Freeman is listed as the starter and Thomas Tyner is listed as the backup. Tyner, you recall, did not make the trip to Santa Clara last week against Cal because of an injured shoulder. Sam Kamp is listed as an "or" with Arik Armstead at defensive end. Armstead also did not travel last week. Kicker Matt Wogan didn't travel either, but is listed as the Ducks' kicker this week. Joe Walker, who started the last three games, is listed as the starting inside linebacker ahead of Derrick Malone.
- At OSU, the offensive line shifts continue because of injuries. Fred Lauina is listed at left guard and Roman Sapolu is at right guard.
- At Stanford, Kyle Olugbode will start for the injured Zach Hoffpauir at safety. DT David Parry is questionable, so Harrison Phillips might get the start.
- At USC, with LT Chad Wheeler out for the year, Aundrey Walker is officially listed as the starter. Though per reports, Toa Lobendahn got some work at LT. Darreus Rogers is listed ahead of George Farmer, who missed the Utah game, and Scott Felix is in at rush linebacker for the injured J.R. Tavai.
- At Washington, either Deontae Cooper or Lavon Coleman will start at running back. Cory Littleton is listed ahead of Travis Feeney at linebacker.
- At WSU, receiver Kristoff Williams is no longer on the roster (see link below). Taylor Taliulu is listed as the starting strong safety and Pat Porter is listed as one of the starting cornerbacks. Also, Vince Mayle is listed as a kick returner.
- Arizona is preparing for an unhappy UCLA squad.
- Good news for the Sun Devils as Todd Graham describes Taylor Kelly as "fine" after hit.
- Some Cal news and notes.
- The Buffs are leaning on some young safeties.
- Putting the Oregon-Stanford game in perspective.
- An interesting look at the contract of Mike Riley.
- New-look Stanford hoping for same results against Oregon.
- Some post-practice video of Jim Mora talking Arizona prep.
- Steve Sarkisian pointing the finger at himself for USC's lack of a killer instinct.
- Utah is preparing for Kelly, but ready for Mike Bercovici.
- Is a linebacker change coming to clear the way for Shaq Thompson on offense?
- Kristoff Williams is done at WSU.
Happy birthday, coach.
Stanford At Oregon Preview
1:00 PM ET Washington Colorado 4:30 PM ET USC Washington State 7:30 PM ET Stanford 5 Oregon 10:30 PM ET California Oregon State 10:30 PM ET 12 Arizona 22 UCLA 11:00 PM ET 17 Utah 14 Arizona State