Pac-12: Oregon Ducks

EUGENE, Ore. -- Brian Kelly couldn’t answer it. Paul Johnson couldn’t answer it. Al Golden couldn’t answer it.

No one has been able to answer it. It’s a question that -- so far this season -- has stumped every coach who has been asked it: How do you stop a player whose best statistic is, simply, winning?

That’s exactly what FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is best at.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston (5) on the field before the game
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston is 26-0 in his collegiate career.
Winston hasn’t been a prolific passer this year. He has completed 65.4 percent while throwing 17 interceptions to 24 touchdowns. None of those numbers is as good as they were last year when he won the Heisman.

In most statistical categories Winston doesn’t even rank in the top 15 nationally.

But there’s one thing -- and really, it’s the only important thing -- that he has proven this season to be better at that any other quarterback: winning. And Oregon is hoping that by Thursday the Ducks will have the answer to the Jameis question.

“He’s a winner, no matter what anybody else says,” Oregon cornerback Troy Hill said of Winston. “He’s a winner -- that’s what I respect. I respect his ability to win and clench games and not feel that pressure.”

Five times this season, the Seminoles were tied or trailed an opponent going into the fourth quarter. Three times this season FSU has trailed by at least two touchdowns. By comparison, Oregon has trailed going into the fourth quarter only once and never has trailed by more than 10 points.

But each of the times that FSU has been down Winston has shown the ability to rally himself and his teammates from the deficit. Not only does he come up big for the Seminoles, he does it without fail.

  • Notre Dame: The Irish went up 27-24 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing drive Winston completed 5-of-6 passes for 64 yards and Karlos Williams scored from 1 yard (set up by Winston’s terrific passing).
  • Louisville: The Cardinals went up 21-7 at halftime. In the first half Winston averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt. In the second half he completed 15-of-25 passes for 284 yards, averaging 11.4 yards per attempt -- more than twice his first-half average. The Seminoles outscored Louisville 35-10 in the second half.
  • Miami: With just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Florida State trailed 26-23. On the ensuing possession Winston completed 2-of-3 passes for 31 yards, setting up a 26-yard touchdown run from Dalvin Cook. Leading up to that drive, Winston had averaged 7 yards per pass attempt, on that drive he averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt.
  • Boston College: They were tied up at 17 leading into the fourth quarter. The Eagles got within field goal range but missed the field goal, giving FSU a chance to go up with just under five minutes remaining. On that possession Winston completed 3-of-3 passes for 33 yards. Leading up to that drive he averaged 8.6 yards per pass attempt. On the game winning drive he averaged 11 yards per attempt.

His ability to win games is unmatched this season and certainly something that gives Oregon -- which saw its fair share of ups and downs at the beginning of the year -- some pause.

It has even garnered the recognition of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“Whenever they’re down, he’s going to make that play for them to win that game,” Mariota said. “He’s that type of player.”

The Oregon defense respects Winston’s rare ability just as much as Mariota.

“It’s a different trait,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said of Winston’s winning abilities. “A lot of players play well in the clutch and he’s one of those guys who finds a way to win.”

So what’s the key?

“Throughout the game we have to find a way to finish toward the end of the game,” Armstead said. “Even if we jump out early or it’s a fight game going back and forth, we’ve got to find a way to finish at the end of the game.”

Easier said than done. But if the Ducks can do it, they not only will earn a spot in the national title game, they will be the first to answer that question in two years.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon knew that keeping quarterback Marcus Mariota healthy this season was a must if it wanted to make the College Football Playoff.

The Ducks needed to look no further than last season to see how a diminished (even a mildly diminished) Mariota could affect their game plan and alter how defenses attacked the Ducks.

So from that perspective, this season has been successful. Mariota has been -- for the most part -- healthy.

[+] EnlargeCayleb Jones
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesThe Ducks have been able to overcome a multitude of injuries, but losing Ifo Ekpre-Olomu presents the biggest challenge yet.
It’s just everyone else that hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

First Bralon Addison, Mariota's leading returning receiver, went down in the spring with a torn ACL. Then the injuries to the offensive line started to pile up (and they really haven’t stopped since). Running back Thomas Tyner, defensive lineman Arik Armstead and wide receivers Keanon Lowe and Dwayne Stanford have all missed game time.

And then most recently, the Ducks lost cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu for the rest of the season.

With each injury Oregon’s mantra has stayed the same, as it has with every other college football team in the country: Next man up.

And it's been the same with Ekpre-Olomu. Despite losing the three-time All-Pac-12 selection, defensive coordinator Don Pellum said that the “game plan stays the same.”

“It’s been kind of the theme of our team, I’d say, this year,” Armstead said. “Just persevering through injuries and down times in the year.”

However, despite the multitude of injuries the Ducks have suffered and how good they’ve become at overcoming this type of adversity, the injury to Ekpre-Olomu strikes at the foundation of the team.

With the offensive line suffering injuries and readjusting, the Ducks suffered their one and only loss of the season. But still, that was something that they were able to overcome. And with every offensive line injury and shift, the group became more versatile and able to adjust to a new position and lineup nearly every game.

Ekpre-Olomu’s injury strikes a secondary that had seemed to finally hit its stride. In the final four games of the regular season, Oregon allowed just 32.9 percent of completions to go for more than 10 yards, the fifth-best percentage nationally during that period.

During that same time, Oregon allowed just 44.3 percent of completions to go for 10 yards or a first down, fourth-best nationally.

Now, rather than a player who has been picking up reps throughout the season stepping into a starting spot (like has been the case for the offensive line), it’ll be an inexperienced player, redshirt freshman Chris Seisay, taking over for the Jim Thorpe Award finalist Ekpre-Olomu.

Earlier last week defensive coordinator Don Pellum was asked if Seisay, who has only accounted for 20 tackles (Ekpre-Olomu had tallied 63), was ready for this kind of a challenge in the Rose Bowl.

“I don’t think there’s any question -- we have to go play,” Pellum said. “We have one game. We have to go play, right? That’s the bottom line.”

That is the bottom line.

But the biggest question at that line is whether the Ducks can continue to withstand the onslaught of injuries. Will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

Mariota has stayed healthy. Not everyone else has. Will that still be enough to beat Florida State?
Much of the focus leading up to the Rose Bowl will be on the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. However, those two aren't ever going to be competing head-to-head on the field at the same time.

Both No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Florida State made it this far because of the talent littered throughout the rosters. While Mariota and Winston have both shown they have the ability to win games on their own, the Rose Bowl could be decided by a player who has been flying a bit under the radar but is poised to make a big splash on Jan. 1.

Here are a few players that haven't been discussed much that could have a big impact on the game.

Defensive players

Oregon: Chris Seisay. First and foremost, he's going to surpass expectations simply because so much more will be asked of him this game than has ever been asked of him. He'll be stepping into the spot vacated by Jim Thorpe Award finalist Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who suffered a career ending injury last week. Seisay, a redshirt freshman, has only accounted for 20 tackles this season due to the fact that he just really hasn't seen the field a ton. Because of this, Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense are certainly going to throw at him quite a bit more. The rest of the secondary is pretty solid -- Troy Hill, Erick Dargan, Reggie Daniels -- so why not take shots at the youngest, most inexperienced guy?

But that's where I think it'll get interesting. I feel like Seisay could have a huge game for the Ducks. Because he'll be targeted more, he'll have a chance to make some big plays (though, he'll also have chances to make some big mistakes), but I think he's going to pull through for the Ducks. Last week, Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said that the game plan wouldn't change for the Ducks. “We lost a great leader, great player, great spiritual leader and everyone has got to -- it's like a hit -- everyone's got to pick it up a little more,” Pellum said. I think Seisay picks up a lot more.

Florida State: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He likely won't receive a ton of snaps, but any contribution from the defensive tackle could prove major for the Seminoles. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher felt the senior lineman was poised for a big season before tearing a pectoral muscle against Clemson in September. He played through the injury during the game, but the tear was bad enough that Fisher said Lawrence-Stample would miss the remainder of the season. So it was a bit of a surprise when Fisher said last week that Lawrence-Stample was ready to practice and should play against the Ducks. Florida State has been thin at defensive tackle all season, and the loss of Lawrence-Stample was a tough blow. Fisher said Oregon's tempo wouldn't give Lawrence-Stample any trouble as he works back into game shape, but the 6-foot-1, 314-pound tackle is likely not going to be able to play a significant number of snaps. Still, even 20 snaps in a reserve role could be pivotal for a defensive line that will need fresh legs deep into the fourth quarter if the Seminoles plan to pull off the upset.

Offensive player

Oregon: Royce Freeman. Yes, I know he's already a player that so many people know. But I think he's going to exceed expectations by having his best game of the season. The Seminoles haven't faced a rushing attack quite like Oregon's. Not only do they have to worry about the rushing attack out of the tailback (Freeman), they have to worry about it out of the quarterback (Mariota) and a slot receiver (Byron Marshall, former running back). There's so much to focus on that I think Freeman might get lost in the shuffle just enough times to really crank off some huge runs.

Florida State has given up 3.9 yards per rush this season, but the Seminoles have also given up 69 rushes of 10 or more yards -- that's one in every seven or eight rushes. And they've shown out when they needed to. FSU held Miami's Duke Johnson to right around his season average in rushing yards per game, while keeping him to just one touchdown run and two rushes of 10 or more yards. But Johnson doesn't have the weapons around him like Freeman has. Freeman is playing his best football right now and has averaged 6.1 yards per rush over the past four games. With each game and practice he, along with Mariota and a constantly reshuffling offensive line, are finding better ways to collectively attack defensive fronts and I think with the extra two weeks of practice we're going to see a huge performance -- his biggest of the year -- out of Freeman. Put me down for it: 180 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns (and one receiving touchdown) at 6.0 yards per carry.

Florida State: Travis Rudolph. The freshman receiver has been brilliant at times this season, dazzling with his footwork and speed. He's also made a few rookie mistakes that have led to Florida State turnovers. Rudolph's talent is undeniable, and the Florida State offense has often looked its best when Rudolph is having a productive game. The Seminoles could use a secondary receiving threat on the outside to complement Rashad Greene, who defensive backs target before every play. Florida State's young receivers have been inconsistent providing help for the senior Greene, who is the most productive receiver in school history. With Greene on the outside and Nick O'Leary on the inside at tight end, there will not be any shortage of opportunities for Rudolph to make a play. Winston has shown he isn't afraid to throw the ball in Rudolph's direction and is not lacking confidence in the freshman. With Oregon's top cornerback out, Rudolph isn't going to have the same caliber of defender standing opposite him either. Even a few catches for 60 or so yards would be a strong contribution from Rudolph and enough to shift some attention from Greene and O'Leary.
FreemanSteve Dykes/Getty ImagesKwame Mitchell, seen in the background to the right of Royce Freeman, is often racing down the sideline, trying to keep pace with Oregon's offense.
EUGENE, Ore. -- There's a good chance even the most devout Oregon fans don't know about one of the most crucial elements of the Ducks' up-tempo offense.

Well, let's take that back. There's a good chance they've seen him and could recognize him on the street, but they have no idea who he is.

His name is Kwame Mitchell -- you know, the guy with the partially bleached Gumby haircut who is typically seen whipping up and down the sideline in formation with Marcus Mariota and the rest of the Oregon offense. Although Red Lightning -- Florida State's Internet-famous manager -- is the more famous ball boy in this Rose Bowl matchup, Mitchell should be known just the same.

Mitchell, a senior Environmental Science major at Oregon, stumbled upon the job. He left his hometown of San Jose, California, and assumed he'd join a fraternity once he got to Eugene. But during the first football game of his freshman year (the Ducks lost to No. 4 LSU), he realized he wanted to be involved with Oregon football, even though he had never played the sport.

[+] EnlargeKwame Mitchell
Courtesy of Kwame MitchellKwame Mitchell takes his job seriously and works out to keep up with the speed of the Ducks' offense.
He made a few phone calls and learned he could "try out" during the spring season, with the final exam the spring game.

It was more nerve-wracking than any basketball tryout he had been part of and more exhausting than most, as well, but he passed and was named to the team's group of managers. More importantly, at least to his parents, he was put on scholarship by the university.

That's when the hard work began. Mitchell learned quickly that fall camp was far less relaxed than spring ball, and when the tempo of the offense falls on the shoulders of the guy on the sideline with the ball (meaning Mitchell), he better not be anything less than perfect.

"I have to be on point because coach [Mark] Helfrich will get on me if I'm not on top of this," Mitchell said. "I need to be spotting the ball quick or getting the ball to the ref quick because if I don't, it messes with our tempo. If they don't go fast, it's on me."

Mitchell quickly learned how important this was. Although he has been nearly perfect this year (there was that time in the Pac-12 Championship game when the official didn't see Mitchell on the sideline, and he ended up a second slow in getting the ball on the field), Mitchell knows how crucial his role is to the team. Even if other people don't see it, Mitchell knows Helfrich is watching.

"He's a very calm guy," Mitchell said. "But when it comes down to game day, and we have to take care of business, it's business. ... I learned my lesson quick. I'm not going to mess up."

That's not the only thing he needed to do quickly. He quickly needed to get back into his high school playing shape. With the amount of running expected of him during games and practices, he had to watch what he ate and ramp up how often he exercised, just so he could keep up with Mariota & Co.

This season -- thanks to the number of offensive line shifts that have resulted in random offensive line penalties -- he has been running up and down the field with the line of scrimmage more than ever.

The mark of a good ball boy -- with the exception of those who've become noticed for their monstrous sprints -- is going completely unnoticed. But of late, Mitchell has found that has become increasingly difficult.

"Recently people out in Eugene have been telling me I look familiar," Mitchell said. "And I'm like, ‘What do you mean I look familiar? You've probably never seen me in your life.'"

Then most say, well, they haven't seen him so much as they've seen his hair on the sideline of Oregon games. That is true -- the flat top with an angled cut, combined with the bleach 'do make a relatively recognizable combo.

He'll be there on the sideline on New Year's Day too. He and Red Lightning will be dueling it out as two of the more recognizable ball boys for two of the top three teams in the country.

Red Lightning (real name: Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat) began growing his hair out last season and didn't cut it during the 2013 campaign because his team started winning. Mitchell is equally superstitious. Could it just be coincidence the one loss of the season came when Mitchell's hair went from bleached to dyed pink (note: it was dyed pink for the same game the Ducks wore pink during Breast Cancer Awareness Month)?

He isn't willing to risk it.

For the Rose Bowl, Mitchell's bleached Gumby cut will be on one sideline, while Red Lightning's glowing coiffure is on the other.

Although their hair is what makes them recognizable, it's their speed and ability to keep up with their teams that have made them known on their sidelines.
Marcus MariotaCary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsFor Marcus Mariota, throwing an interception has been a rare occurrence the past two seasons.
EUGENE, Ore. -- In the past two seasons, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has been intercepted six times. He has attempted 758 passes.

That statistic alone is absolutely insane. Imagine that: For the number of times Mariota has targeted a young receiver or a guy in double coverage, thrown a bomb or a risky fade, only six of those times has a player who wasn’t supposed to get the ball, in fact, gotten the ball. The odds of football say he should’ve thrown far more picks during his time in an Oregon uniform. But as more fans have looked west this season to watch the Heisman winner, they’ve learned Mariota doesn’t exactly live or die by the rules of odds (or gravity, for that matter).

It’s impressive not just because of how clean he has been, but also because of how many shots he has taken at the end zone without being picked off. Other than holding the nation’s best interception-to-pass attempt ratio over the past two seasons, Mariota also holds the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in FBS. For every pick, he throws 11.5 touchdowns.

It’s a feat to intercept any quarterback, and most defensive players can remember their interceptions pretty well. But when you intercept Mariota, it sticks a little more, which we discovered when speaking with those in the elite group.

However, there was a common trend among the players when they spoke about the interception. A lot of guys said they were lucky or in the right spot, Mariota was unlucky, or he had to be baited into the interception. Nothing was a gimme.

The six players who made #SuperMariota look -- at least a little bit -- human over the past two seasons reflected on their interceptions. Quickly, it was discovered that picking off Mariota isn’t just a vague memory. Most players remember the very minute details of the play, the moment and the pick.

These are their memories:

Nov. 1, 2014 | Stanford cornerback Alex Carter

“I remember the receiver took an inside release, so I knew he was going to run an inside route. It was against Devon Allen. It was their fastest guy, so I knew he was going to run deep or a post. And then, as I was chasing after Devon, I kind of peeked -- I saw my safety over top, so I was a little bit behind -- but I looked back to see if Marcus had thrown the ball. He had thrown it, and it kind of got lost in the lights for three seconds, and then on its way down, it just kind of popped into my hands. I was pretty fortunate that he threw a bad pass.”

It was a bad pass?

“Yeah. He saw his receiver open, but he saw the safety in the middle, and I was coming from behind, so it was kind of like we had him on both sides. [Marcus] kind of underthrew his receiver a little bit. I’m just lucky I was in the right spot.”

Oct. 24, 2014 | Cal safety Stefan McClure

[+] EnlargeStefan McClure
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsCal's Stefan McClure said he could see the ire of Oregon players after he intercepted Marcus Mariota.
“I remember the defense being backed up in the red zone, and then they were just driving the ball on us. They tried to run, basically, a little switch route -- a slant and a post, the outside guy ran a slant, the inside guy ran a post -- the ball was tipped by the linebacker. It looked like it was going right to our corner, and our corner had an easy interception. He jumped for it, and he tipped it, and it went straight to me. It kind of just fell in my hands right in the end zone. So it was tipped twice and went right to me, but the corner had the clearer shot at the interception, but he didn’t catch it.”

Do you remember anything about the demeanor of Oregon players after that interception?

“They were a little surprised. They weren’t happy about it. After I caught it, one of them jumped and tried to grab the ball from me, so they were still trying to fight for it. I just remember Mariota looked disappointed and just unbuckled his chinstrap pretty mad-like. That was the main thing. The ball was tipped twice, so it wasn’t like he just threw it terribly, it was tipped twice and batted around. Those are the worst interceptions to have as a quarterback.”

Nov. 29, 2013 | Oregon State cornerback Rashaad Reynolds

“We were in a Cover 3. It was, I believe, the third or fourth quarter of the game. I think they came out, and they ran two streaks with just a fade on the outside and a seam on the inside. I was playing in the middle of both of the guys. He had one guy up the sideline, and I was kind of leaning more toward the guy in the middle of the field, but I saw the guy going up the sideline, so I kind of got a jump on it once he threw the ball.”

Do you think Mariota could’ve avoided the pick in any way?

“He probably could’ve thrown it a little further, but the way it looked -- because I kind of baited it -- I made it seem like the guy up the sideline was kind of open. I did that on purpose to bait him. But he was looking off, so he wasn’t looking at that particular guy. So once he looked that way, I just broke on the ball and got the interception.”

Nov. 29, 2013 | Oregon State cornerback Steven Nelson

“We were in a Cover 3, and I was running nub side tight end. They did a 10-yard in route, and it looked like Mariota kind of underthrew [the receiver] a little bit. I just jumped in front of it.”

Do you remember anything that happened after you made the interception?

“It was kind of a hard catch. If you watch the play, I had to reach back for the ball, and I landed on my left leg, and I tried to keep balance. And I really didn’t have time to see where I could run, so I think the nearest receiver just tackled me.”

Nov. 23, 2013 | Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright

“It was the first play of the game, and I think [they] turned out a hitch to the sideline, and the receiver kind of bobbled the ball and had fallen out of bounds. Shaquille Richardson kind of made a great play on the ball and threw it back inbounds to me, and I was by the sideline and, just, I caught it and stayed in bounds.”

Do you remember anything that happened after you made the interception?

“I should’ve scored a touchdown, but I tripped.”

Nov. 23, 2013 | Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson

“My interception was toward the end of the game. … From film study and how the game had been going, I knew what play they were running, which was a double post around the 20-yard line, which is a common route combination. So I only played that route, and my front seven had a lot of pressure on the play and forced Mariota to scramble. I was [guessing] because you knew he would just run if I covered my man, so I waited a split-second and baited him to throw it, and when he did, I already [knew] what would happen so I finished the route for the receiver. I think his name was Lowe. If it was not for Mariota’s athletic ability and speed, he wouldn't have cut me off on my way to the end zone.”
Has this been the greatest season in Pac-12 history? The jury is still out on that front, as bowl games remain to be played, and Oregon is tasked with carrying the conference flag into a playoff battle with the nation's big boys. But after a captivating regular season, the conference is undoubtedly in strong position entering this final foray.

The 2014 ride -- typically unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while making an impact on its eccentric, memorable course.

Here is the final installment, featuring our three top plays from the 2014 Pac-12 season:

3. The play of polar opposites: Kaelin Clay fumble; Joe Walker TD return

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This has to be the ultimate "what if?" play of the Pac-12 season, and that is saying something. Yes, Oregon might have won anyway without Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay's help in early November, but the journey to do so would have been exponentially more difficult. And a Utes' win would have drastically changed the complexion of the Pac-12 South title race and the inaugural College Football Playoff.

Early in the second quarter, Clay hauled in a deep post from Travis Wilson and sprinted toward paydirt. A jubilant Rice-Eccles Stadium shook celebrating what initially looked to be a 79-yard touchdown catch that would have positioned Utah for a 14-0 lead.

But one not-so-minor detail stood in the way of that.

As part of his scoring celebration, Clay had dropped the football -- and he accidentally did so before he had crossed the goal line. So as Utah players were celebrating what they thought to be a touchdown, Oregon defenders were scrambling to recover a fumble. Linebacker Joe Walker eventually secured the ball and ran 99 yards in the opposite direction, scoring to tie the game while creating a signature #Pac12AfterDark moment of mass confusion.

This broke the mayhem gauge: There was a point in time when Utah and Oregon were both simultaneously celebrating 100 yards apart in opposite end zones.

Only the Ducks' party lasted. Instead of trailing 14-0 in the teeth of a ferocious defense playing in front of its electric Salt Lake City crowd, Oregon was suddenly even with the Utes. Walker had sprinted 180 yards on one play -- 80 from the line of scrimmage to pick up the fumble at the goal line, and 100 more to score the other way -- but he was the energized one after the play, while Utah was deflated. The Ducks went on to win 51-27, and the rest was history.

2. The Jael Mary

Before the night of October 4, 2014, we were still oh, so naive. We thought that there was no way a successful Hail Mary could decide a game at the gun more than once per decade. We thought a nine-point lead with three minutes remaining at home against a backup quarterback was ... relatively safe?

But then October 4 happened, and nothing was the same. The practice of expecting conventional finishes in this conference died in the Los Angeles Coliseum on that night. Arizona State and USC played a game which saw Pac-12 end-of-game eccentricity go from being a rare spectacle to a regular occurrence.

Javorius Allen's 53-yard touchdown run gave USC a 34-25 lead with 3:02 remaining and Troy celebrated, unaware that ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici was about to rack up 145 yards over his next three completions. The first was a 73-yard touchdown strike to Cameron Smith. That made this a two-point game with 2:43 remaining.

But the Trojans recovered the ensuring onside kick, and ASU didn't have any timeouts left. So nothing to sweat for Steve Sarkisian, right?

Well, nothing except for the ultimate rip-your-heart-out finish. After a USC three-and-out, ASU took over at its own 28 with 23 seconds remaining. A 26-yard pass to Smith positioned the Sun Devils for a final gasp as time expired. Jaelen Strong plucked Bercovici's Hail Mary heave out of the air and hopped into the end zone, sending the Coliseum into shocked silence, leaving the hometown fans wondering why USC hadn't seemed interested in covering one of the country's best receivers?

As is the case with so many #Pac12AfterDark questions, there is no satisfying answer. There is only a legendary result, and this one is immortalized as the Jael Mary. Arizona State 38, USC 34.

1. The Hill Mary

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The Jael Mary has an ancestor, and it also Hails (pun intended) from the state of Arizona. Two weeks before the Sun Devils snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in Los Angeles, Arizona did the same thing against California. The difference: The Wildcats put on their show at home, sending a stadium into delirium, and they did it first. Arizona's last-second heroics also were a determinant in their Pac-12 South championship and Cal's failure to make a bowl game, so they beat out their Tempe rivals on this list.

The climactic play of this game was only the final piece of an absolutely sensational Wildcats' rally. Cal led 31-13 entering the fourth quarter, and it's not as if the Golden Bears suddenly stopped scoring to blow their lead: Sonny Dykes' club actually registered two insurance touchdowns in the quarter. But this insurance policy wasn't big enough to withstand a 36-point Arizona fourth quarter.

The Wildcats scored, and they scored furiously fast. A Casey Skowron field goal. A Tra'Mayne Bondurant interception followed by an Austin Hill touchdown. A Cayleb Jones touchdown. A Terrence Jones-Grigsby touchdown. An onside kick recovery. Another Jones touchdown.

Even after that flurry, Arizona still trailed 45-43. It failed a two-point conversion that could have tied the game with 2:44 remaining. Cal regained possession with a chance to seal the game, but the Wildcats kept kicking.

With under a minute left, Dykes elected to try a 47-yard field goal, but this turned out to be an ill-fated decision. James Langford missed, and Arizona got one final chance with 52 seconds left. Facing a fourth-and-7 from his own 33, quarterback Anu Solomon found Hill for a 20-yard gain that moved the ball to the Bears' 47. He then spiked the ball with only a precious few ticks remaining, setting up our No. 1 moment of truth.

To signal in the obvious play call, Rich Rodriguez and his fellow coaches clasped their hands together in "Hail Mary" prayer fashion.

Cal only rushed three, and Solomon's 73rd and final pass of the night was also its most majestic, a soaring 50-plus yard lob that might have brought down rain had the game not been played in the cloudless desert.

"Halfway, and then three-quarters of way [into the throw's flight], I knew the ball was coming to me," Hill said. "I was just hoping no one bumped into me, or hit my elbow, or jumped on top of me so I could secure the catch."

Mission accomplished. Hill Mary immortalized. Arizona 49, Cal 45.

"Don't ever go home early," a beaming Rodriguez told a TV camera afterward.

Nope, don't do that. Not in this age of Pac-12 football.

Other impact plays

Another wild week in Pac-12 

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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The Pac-12 and the West region are capable of producing some wild weeks during the lead-up to signing day, with so many prospects in the area waiting until that day to make their commitment and rivals going after so many of the same prospects.

Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual: No. 3 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 2 Oregon (12-1)

Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California (ESPN)

Key matchup: Oregon RB Royce Freeman vs. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

Why it matters: The battle between the two most recent Heisman Trophy winners will generate the most headlines, but one of the defining factors of this game will be which freshman running back has a better afternoon. Both first-year players are hitting their stride at the perfect time; it’s imperative for teams to run the football well late in the season. Freeman has toppled the 100-yard mark in six of his last eight games, and he ran for 98 and 99 in those other two performances. Cook has ran for 321 yards over his last two games and was named the MVP of the ACC championship game for his 31-carry, 177-yard effort. Adding to the intrigue of this matchup is the difference in running styles. Freeman tips the scales at 229 pounds and sends would-be tacklers tumbling backward. Cook runs through tackles, too, but he also embarrasses defenders with his nifty footwork.

Who wins: The winner of this matchup could determine the winner of the game. It would not be a shock to see both teams light up the scoreboard in the first half, but eventually the running games will need to take control for Oregon or Florida State to win. Florida State (60th nationally) and Oregon (50th) are essentially equally average against the run, so it’s not as if one running back will have a significantly easier afternoon against a porous defense. What could help Freeman is the running threat of Marcus Mariota on option plays. The Ducks will look to put pressure on the Seminoles’ defensive line with the read option, forcing it to make a decision to take away either Marcus Mariota or Freeman. IF the unit makes the wrong decision it could lead to big gains for the Ducks. Freeman will have a productive day and cross the 100-yard threshold in a 35-34 Oregon win.

Pac-12 morning links

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:00
AM ET
Happy Friday!

Leading off

All week we've been bringing you the All-America honors as they rolled in.

In total, 14 Pac-12 players were named to a first-team All-America squad. Of those 14, Marcus Mariota, Scooby Wright and Hau'oli Kikaha were unanimous selections. Two other players -- Tom Hackett and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu -- were consensus selections appearing on at least three of the five recognized teams.

This is the eighth straight year the Pac-12 has had a unanimous selection and the first time since 2005 it's had three in one year (Reggie Bush, Dwayne Jarrett, Maurice Drew). The five recognized teams are the American Football Coaches Association, the Associated Press, the Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

Here's the final tally among the big five:

Offense
  • QB, Marcus Mariota, Oregon, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
  • OL, Jake Fisher, Oregon, Sr., FWAA
  • OL, Hroniss Grasu, Oregon, Sr., SN
  • OL, Andrus Peat, Stanford, Jr., SN
  • AP, Shaq Thompson, Washington, Jr., AP
Defense
  • DL, Nate Orchard, Utah, Sr., FWAA-WC
  • DL, Danny Shelton, Washington, Jr., AP-SN
  • DL, Leonard Williams, USC, Jr., AFCA
  • LB, Eric Kendricks, UCLA, Sr., SN
  • LB, Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington, Sr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
  • LB, Scooby Wright III, Arizona, So., AFCA-AP-FWAA-SN-WC (unanimous)
  • DB, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon, Sr., AFCA-AP-WC (consensus)
  • P, Tom Hackett, Utah, Jr., AFCA-AP-FWAA-WC (consensus)
  • PR, Kaelin Clay, Utah, Sr., SN
Game of the year?

Just before the start of bowl season, the folks at Athlon Sports wanted to look back at the chaos that was the 2014 Pac-12 regular season. We've been running our pivotal plays series all week, so be sure to check that out. But Athlon looked at the top 15 games of the season. Here's their top five.
  1. Oct 2: Arizona 31, Oregon 24
  2. Oct. 4: Arizona State 38, USC 34
  3. Sept. 6: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
  4. Oct. 25: Utah 24, USC 21
  5. Oct. 4: Utah 30, UCLA 28

You'll note that three of their five are from Week 6. We noted last week in our Roadtrip Revisited post that every game that week was unbelievable. If you click the link, they actually rate 30 games. Fairly surprised the Cal-WSU game (also in Week 6) didn't make the top 10. To each their own.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Really great read from our friend Max Olson on the Big 12 blog about the recruitment of linebacker Malik Jefferson. Some interesting UCLA notes in there.
Welcome to the mailbag, where the holiday cheer never stops.

Tyler in Palo Alto writes: When do the bowl predictions come out? Any upsets on the horizon?

Kevin Gemmell: The Pac-12 blog will reveal its bowl game predictions with a 90-minute extravaganza show airing on The Ocho on Friday morning. Ted will spend 45 minutes screaming incoherently about Pitt while Chantel holds her FauxPelini face the entire time. Kyle, David and I will discuss the Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston storyline for about a minute, followed by another 40 minutes on Johnny Manziel and the SEC dominance. We'll close with a roundtable discussion rehashing the Ka'Deem Carey vs. Bishop Sankey debate and why Desmond Trufant wasn't on the 2012 postseason Top 25 list. It’s going to be a blast.

But in all seriousness, the picks come out Friday morning. No problem telling you I’m going full-blown homer. Of course, the league won’t go 8-0. That would be too much to expect. The conference is favored in seven of its eight games, with UCLA the only underdog right now. So if you're going with my picks, then I'm picking the Bruins in an "upset" win.

Someone will slip up. They always do. But on paper, I think the league has a chance to sweep. They say bowl games are about motivation. I see strong motivation for all eight teams in the league.


Mark in Portland writes: If Mariota leads the Ducks to their first ever championship, will he be considered one of the greatest CFB players ever? His stats are up there with the best ever, and he is the first player ever to throw for 30 TD's or more in his freshmen, sophomore and junior seasons. And winning the first ever CFB playoff would be huge and be remembered decades from now.

Kevin Gemmell: I think winning the Heisman automatically puts you in the conversation of one of the greatest college football players ever, doesn’t it? By default, you’re already considered the best player in the game for that year.

But in terms of legacy, Mariota has certainly done some special things that make him part of the discussion. As you note, winning the first ever national championship of the playoff era would resonate. Being the first-ever Oregon player to win the Heisman and the first from the region since Oregon State's Terry Baker in 1962 will also stick with folks -- at least on the West Coast.

But even without a national championship, I think what he will best be remembered for are his ball-security numbers. That he has accounted for 53 touchdowns while turning it over just five times is remarkable. Right now, his personal TD-to-turnover margin is plus-48. Only Tim Tebow in 2007 had a better one in the past decade. And chances are Mariota will break that record, too, if he takes care of the ball in the next (two?) game(s).

You also have to look at the fact that of his 372 passes this season, only two have been intercepted. If that percentage holds, it will break the single-season FBS record of quarterbacks with a minimum of 350 attempts.

I think with the numbers and the Heisman, he’s already worked his way into the discussion. Adding a national championship (assuming he has a pair of monster games) would, in my mind, solidify him in the top dozen or so. Time will have to do the rest of the work.


Shonti in Miami writes: Realistically, how does Oregon match up with Florida State in the Rose Bowl? FSU fans seem to be really confident, and although they played many very close games this year, the team has a lot of talent. I'm concerned Oregon's offense could struggle against FSU's athletic defensive line and big defensive backs.

Kevin Gemmell: Much has been written this season about Oregon improving its size across the line. And I think the Ducks use the tempo to their advantage.

Keep in mind, too, that the Ducks have a big back in Royce Freeman who can pound when necessary, but he also has the speed and athleticism to hit the corners. My guess is Oregon’s pace will counter-balance any size issues. Besides, it’s not like Oregon hasn’t seen big or athletic defensive lines this season (Stanford, Washington, Utah etc...).

Also, I wrote this week about Oregon’s success at turning turnovers into points. I think that is going to be a huge factor, since Florida State turns the ball over quite a bit.

Turnovers are one thing. But if you don’t do anything with them and end up punting the ball back, they aren’t much good. Oregon has been especially good at making their turnovers count. That they have scored 120 points off turnovers ... nearly 20 percent of their total points ... is huge.

If both teams stick to their trends -- FSU not taking care of the ball and Oregon capitalizing on turnovers -- I think the Ducks match up very well.

However, the news that broke yesterday that Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is out with a knee injury isn't what you want to hear heading into the postseason. He's got two interceptions and nine breakups this season, and he will certainly be missed. But I think Oregon's secondary is seasoned enough now that it will be able to marginally compensate. I don't think it's a game-changing loss, but it's certainly noteworthy.
Has this been the greatest season in Pac-12 history? The jury is still out on that front, as bowl games remain to be played, and Oregon is tasked with carrying the conference flag into a playoff battle with the nation's big boys. But after a captivating regular season, the conference is undoubtedly in strong position entering this final foray.

The 2014 ride -- typically unpredictable, frequently stunning, always entertaining -- has been bathed in a downright surreal aura throughout (see #Pac12AfterDark). We want to commemorate the Paction, so we've assembled a list of the top 15 moments that defined this bizarre Pac-12 campaign while making an impact on its eccentric, memorable course.

We'll be counting down in increments of three throughout this week. Here's the third installment:

6. Cal’s stand against Colorado in double overtime

video

It was one of those “never-say-die” games when it came to Cal and Colorado earlier this year. Jared Goff and Sefo Liufau threw for seven touchdowns each. EACH. How many conferences even have seven touchdown passes in one game? There were 1,200-plus yards, which is either incredibly impressive or unimpressive, depending on whether you’re a fan of offense or defense.

But regardless, this game clearly wasn’t going to be decided in regulation, so, we got some free football.

Cal struck first in the first OT. After the Colorado defense had come up with two stops for no gain on first and second down, Goff found Bryce Treggs for a 25-yard TD. Liufau responded by finding Nelson Spruce on the Buffs’ first down, pulling Colorado even. But then the Buffs kind of stalled. They were able to get two first downs to start the second OT, but when the game was on the line and Colorado was -- almost literally -- on the goal line, the Cal defense came up with its biggest stop of the year. Liufau was tackled on fourth-and-goal for a loss of three yards by Jalen Jefferson and Michael Lowe.

Cal kicked a field goal to win. It was Cal’s first conference win of the year and the Bears’ first since Oct. 13, 2012. Though the Bears only went on to win two more games and fell short of becoming bowl-eligible, it was a good statement moment and statement win for a team that’s clearly on the rise.

5. Marcus Mariota flip vs. Michigan State

Earlier last week, Pac-12 Blog readers voted this play as Mariota’s “Heisman Moment,” which was pretty telling about a few different things. First of all, it’s not a scoring play. In fact, for Mariota’s standards, it was pretty darn near basic. There are no flips, no spins, no hurdles, no nothing. It’s Mariota getting out of the pocket, making things happen and then getting the ball -- at the perfect time -- to someone else who can make more things happen.

Essentially, your typical Mariota.

The play came when the Ducks needed it most. The Spartans had scored 20 unanswered points and Oregon trailed 27-18 in the third quarter on Sept. 6. The Ducks faced a third-and-long following a sack, and everyone knew that MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was going to bring pressure again, and he did. But Mariota was able to avoid sack attempts from Darien Harris, Riley Bullough and Ed Davis before making his way toward his left and sending a shovel pass in the direction of Royce Freeman.

Freeman picked up the first down and more (17 yards) and the Ducks were able to score on that drive, pulling within two of the Spartans, before cruising through the fourth quarter and winning 46-27.

4. The fumble heard round the Pac-12

video

And we move from one of Mariota’s best plays to one of his worst, thanks to eventual Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner Scooby Wright.

With the No. 2 Ducks trailing by seven at home to unranked Arizona with just over two minutes remaining in the game, Mariota took the snap on a first-and-10 at the 35-yard line. Oregon needed to score on this drive in order to keep itself alive on Oct. 2, but then the unthinkable happened.

Wright seemingly came out of nowhere, stripped Mariota and recovered the fumble.

The play was one of a handful that really sealed the upset victory for the Wildcats. It was the Ducks’ only blemish on their schedule and it certainly created some questions for the playoff committee (at least at that point in the season) regarding Oregon. As the conference season played on and the Wildcats earned more respect, and eventually a spot in the Pac-12 game, the loss became less questionable, though a loss nonetheless.

Mariota and Oregon were able to avenge the fumble in the Pac-12 championship game, but it certainly was one of those very, very rare moments this season in which the unflappable and unstoppable Mariota looked human.

Other impact plays:

Pac-12 bowl season: Most to prove

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
2:00
PM ET
Bowl season for Pac-12 contenders begins this Saturday with Utah's clash against Colorado State. How much does each conference team have to prove during this postseason opportunity? Here's our list.

1. Oregon

Every year, one of the big questions out West revolves around the Ducks' chances of finally grabbing that national championship. Oregon boasts Superman this year, and it's almost certainly Marcus Mariota's last campaign in Eugene. Though their defense suffered a major blow with the loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, the Ducks have their man under center. They can't take this chance to win it all for granted: A playoff appearance is a golden opportunity for this powerful Oregon program to prove that it can finally bring home college football's ultimate hardware. Florida State, the defending champs, await in the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual.

2. UCLA

This, likely Brett Hundley's final season in Westwood, was supposed to be year the Bruins surged from "good" to "elite." But they slipped too often, and the timing of their last fall -- a 31-10 finale loss at the hands of Stanford -- couldn't have been worse. Now, the narrative has shifted back to the old "they can't win the big one" theme, and that's the exact perception UCLA wanted to avoid. They have a chance to make a cleansing statement versus a good Kansas State squad, also 9-3, in the Valero Alamo Bowl.

3. Utah

The season started magically for the Utes -- aside from that 28-27 road bump at home against Washington State, of course. But after kicking 2014 off at 6-1, Utah dropped three of their last five games. They narrowly squeaked by Pac-12 bottom feeder Colorado to close the regular season, so it's fair to say that Kyle Whittingham's club stumbled to the finish line. An 8-4 record is nothing to scoff at, but the Utes could use a good stomping of Mountain West opponent Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. It would go a long way toward maintaining that "we've arrived as a force in the Pac-12" tone over the offseason.

4. ASU

The Sun Devils' season trajectory had some similarities with Utah's, though ASU lost one fewer game late in the season. Still, they were a one-loss team until a rough November knocked them out of the conference race. A Hyundai Sun Bowl date against fellow 9-3 competitor Duke has become ASU's consolation price, and that is quite the step down from the Rose Bowl aspirations Todd Graham's club harbored followings its November 8 win against Notre Dame. So it's important for the Sun Devils to reverse trajectory heading into the offseason, and they would also like to prove that they are better in December than last season's 37-23 Holiday Bowl loss to Texas Tech.

5. Arizona

The Wildcats were peaking at the right time ---- Oh wait, there was red-hot Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, and there were 24 yards of total offense for Arizona in the first half. Suddenly, Rich Rodriguez's club wasn't peaking at the right time. But the Wildcats can take solace in the fact that the Ducks have the ability to make good teams look foolish. They can also comfort themselves knowing that this VIZIO Fiesta Bowl is a prime chance to deliver a positive closing statement against a 10-2 Boise State team that loves that big stadium in Glendale.

6. USC

Steve Sarkisian really needed that blowout victory over Notre Dame in the finale to dump the "seven win" moniker that online trolls gleefully tossed around following the Trojans' loss to UCLA. Sark got the powerful performance he was looking for, so he's 8-4 heading into a National University Holiday Bowl matchup against Nebraska. Sure, a postseason win would be nice for the Trojans, but they are lower on this list because there is not all that much for them left to prove this season. Regardless of whether they win or lose on December 27, we know who USC is: a very talented, somewhat flawed, and ultimately thin team that's excited about getting a clean slate in 2015.

7. Stanford

There is very little the Cardinal can prove in their Foster Farms Bowl clash with Maryland on Dec. 30. Stanford capped a disappointing 7-5 regular season with a resounding 31-10 thumping of UCLA, and that performance made it very clear the Cardinal had underperformed in their games leading up to the finale. Now, David Shaw's team is a two-touchdown favorite against the Terrapins in a game 20 minutes away from campus, so there is really no chance to prove anything more than what the Cardinal already accomplished against the Bruins -- even in the case of a lopsided victory.

8. Washington

The Huskies managed eight wins in the first year of the Chris Petersen era, and they fought through some turmoil, too. The team delivered a strong finish following the dismissal of star cornerback Marcus Peters. So, the season has served as a solid foundation for Petersen to work with as he tries to assert himself in Seattle moving forward. It's hard to see the result of the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against 6-6 Oklahoma State swinging the vibe too far in either direction.
Students at O'Hara Catholic School Chantel Jennings/ESPNStudents at O'Hara Catholic School in Eugene offered their thoughts on Oregon's playoff chances.


EUGENE, Ore. -- Twelve-year-old Charlie Papé recently became internet famous when he asked Oregon coach Mark Helfrich during a postgame news conference if he had any insight into quarterback Marcus Mariota's future plans.

Papé explained to Helfrich that there were four things that mattered at his school, O’Hara Catholic School in Eugene, Oregon, just three miles from Autzen Stadium: Jesus, Girls and Marcus Mariota.

But there was one problem. He only named three.

"The fourth thing was how bad we’re going to beat the next team we play," Pape´ clarified on Wednesday.

It was a minor gaffe in an otherwise spotless delivery of one of the best lines in college football this year.

On Wednesday, Papé and 13 of his fellow schoolmates gathered in the library to discuss a few important topics including what they consider to be the fourth most important thing at O’Hara, any advice they might have for Mariota on whether to go pro or stay for his final year of eligibility, and their thoughts on Florida State.

The answers ranged from incredibly insightful to bizarre, which is what one should probably expect when questioning a group of elementary school students. Now, we give you the wisdom of O’Hara Catholic:

Henry, 9

Fourth most important thing: Beating Oregon State.

Advice for Mariota: “I want him to stay because he’s a great player.”

Breakdown of FSU-Oregon: “I just think that Oregon is going to win because I think they’re the better team because Florida State always wins by a field goal and if Marcus doesn’t throw a pick in the fourth quarter I think we’ll win, because that’s normally how [FSU] wins.”

Luke, 10

[+] EnlargeO'Hara Middle School
Chantel Jennings/ESPNStudents at O'Hara Catholic School in Eugene do their best Heisman pose in honor of Ducks QB Marcus Mariota.
Fourth most important thing: Did I do my homework or not

Advice for Mariota: “I think he should go pro because he won the Heisman. If he hadn’t won the Heisman I’d say he should come back.”

Oregon wins if ... : “If Mariota doesn’t throw any picks, the Ducks play their hearts out and the Ducks beat them.”

Stella, 10

Fourth most important thing: Service.

Advice for Mariota: “I’d like if he stayed because he’s really good but I want him to go pro also.”

Davis, 6

Fourth most important thing: Being kind.

Advice for Mariota: “That he doesn’t care about the Heisman, he cares about beating Florida State.”

What’s the key to the game: “Not throwing any picks and scoring more touchdowns than [FSU].”

Thoughts on FSU: “Their uniforms look like ugly sweaters.”

Sam, 11

Fourth most important thing: Food (specifically, the cafeteria’s French toast and chicken nuggets -- together -- covered in syrup).

Advice for Mariota: “Run the ball but don’t get hurt. And slide, because he never slides.”

What Oregon needs to do to win: “Play hard. Play fast. Do tempo.”

Ryan, 10

Fourth most important thing: Friendship

Advice for Mariota: “I don’t want him to [go pro], but I think he should because he’s a good role [model] and he’d make the NFL’s image better.”

Thoughts on the FSU matchup: “I think Oregon will win because Jameis is overrated and I think the defense will play well and the offense will have a spark in the beginning. They’ll score first and they’ll keep scoring.”

Sandhya, 10

Fourth most important thing: Being helpful to people and being kind.

Advice for Mariota: “I think he should go pro. I’m pretty sure he’ll be a first-round pick. I want him to go to the Eagles, because I’m hoping Chip Kelly will rebuild the Ducks there because they already have Josh Huff.”

What Oregon needs to do to beat FSU: “I think the defense has to be a little stronger, covering receivers more.”

Andrew, 10

Fourth most important thing: Sports.

Advice for Mariota: “Go pro. If he comes back he has more to lose than he has to gain. He could risk things like injuries. But if he goes, I think it’d be a good year to finish on because he already won the Heisman and his team is in the first-ever college playoffs.”

What Oregon needs to do to beat FSU: “Lock down Jameis Winston and be dominant on defense and keep Mariota mobile.”

Max, 14

Fourth most important thing: “A toss up between how bad Charlie Pape´’s fantasy team is and how much cooler the Ducks’ uniforms are than Florida State’s.”

What does Oregon need to do to beat FSU?: “Show up.”

Rather face Ohio State or Alabama?: “Alabama, because college football has an East Coast bias. Everybody -- but USC -- on the West Coast doesn’t really get any respect.”

Advice for Helfrich: “Go for it on fourth-and-short and take the right chances.”

Luke, 11

Fourth most important thing: Fantasy football (the sixth grade class has a league. Luke’s team, Luke’s Ballers, lost in the first round of the playoffs).

Advice for Mariota: “I want him to stay but he has accomplished everything so I think he should go pro.”

Why does the defense not matter as much? “I don’t think Jameis Winston is that good, so I don’t think we need to worry about that.”

Jordan, 12

Fourth most important thing: That the SEC is overrated

Why the SEC is overrated: “There are a couple dominant teams and then the rest are like Vanderbilt, Arkansas -- they’re so-so.”

Advice for defensive coordinator Don Pellum: “I think they should blitz them a lot because they have an OK line, great wide receivers and a great quarterback, so I just think they should blitz.”

Cooper, 10

Fourth most important thing: Winning a national championship

What does Oregon need to do to win a national title: “In the first game they have to stop Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary, which will slow down Jameis Winston and force Dalvin Cook -- their freshman running back -- to win the game for them.”

Final score prediction: 56-28, Oregon

Will you be a fan of whatever NFL team drafts Mariota? “Not if he goes to the Jets.”

Jackson, 12

Fourth most important thing: football (apparently this and Mariota fall into two separate categories of importance)

Advice for Mariota: “I think he should stay for his senior year and take us to another national championship.”

What’s the key to Oregon’s defense playing well: “Play strong. Get a lot of turnovers.”

Pac-12 morning links

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
AM ET
If you use more than 5 percent of your brain you don't want to be on earth.

Leading off

Another day, another round of All-America teams. Three more to catch you up on. You should know the names by now.

First up is The Sporting News:
  • First-team offense: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon; Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford; Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon;
  • First-team defense: Danny Shelton, DT, Washington; Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona; Hau’oli Kikaha, LB Washington; Erick Kendricks, LB, UCLA.
  • First-team special teams: KR Kaelin Clay, Utah.
  • Second-team offense: Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State.
  • Second-team defense: Nate Orchard, DE, Utah; Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon;
  • Special teams: Tom Hackett, P, Utah.
Next up is the AFCA FBS All-America team:
  • First-team offense: Mariota
  • First-team defense: Leonard Williams, DL, USC; Wright; Kikaha; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon.
  • Specialists: Hackett
And here's the Football Writers Association of America All-America team:
  • First-team offense: Mariota, Jake Fisher, OL, Oregon
  • First-team defense: Orchard, Kikaha, Wright III,
  • Specialists: Hackett
  • Second-team defense: Williams, Kendricks

The Sporting News also named Mariota its player of the year.

Ifo out

No doubt, you've heard the news that Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, whose name appears on some All-America lists above, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. It's not an apocalyptic blow to the Ducks. But you don't want to be facing Winston down one of your best defenders, either.

Here's some reaction: News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

A couple of ASU alums are already benefiting from the new Adidas deal. All together now ... awwwwwww
videoSo much for Oregon, injury riddled much of the year, getting healthy for its Rose Bowl matchup with Florida State in the College Football Playoff. So much for the A-list matchup between Ducks All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who injured his knee Tuesday, and Seminoles receiver Rashad Greene.

So much for the Ducks hitting their earnest preparation for, potentially, the program's first college football national title with positive momentum.

Oregon doesn't talk about injuries, but we do and this is a bad one. Oregon, when it does at least acknowledge that a key player might be hurt, reverts to the mantra, "Next man in," and that will be the case here. But the Ducks next man in at cornerback won't be anyone close to Ekpre-Olomu, a consensus All-American. While Oregon will don all-green uniforms for the Rose Bowl, the guy who steps in for Ekpre-Olomu might as well show up in highlighter yellow -- an actual Ducks uniform option! -- based on how the Seminoles and quarterback Jameis Winston are going to view him.

[+] EnlargeOregon defense
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsOregon star cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered a severe knee injury during the Ducks' practice Tuesday and will miss the rest of the season.
It's likely senior Dior Mathis will get the call. The fifth-year senior has seen a lot of action but he has been unable to break into the starting lineup. Or the Ducks could go with promising youngster Chris Seisay, a redshirt freshman who was listed behind Ekpre-Olomu on the depth chart in advance of the Pac-12 championship game. At 6-foot-1, Seisay, who started against Wyoming in place of Troy Hill, brings better size to field than the 5-foot-9 Mathis -- or the 5-10 Ekpre-Olomu for that matter -- but it's not encouraging when the laudatory remark next to his name on the depth chart is "has tackles in five straight games."

Ekpre-Olomu, a senior who has been a starter since midway through his freshman year, has 63 tackles and nine passes defended, including two interceptions, this season. While he's been notably beaten a few times, there were whispers that he was playing through some bumps and bruises that were slowing him down. He was one of many Ducks who were expected to greatly benefit from nearly a month off.

Suddenly losing a star like Ekpre-Olomu is about more than a starting lineup, though. It also takes an emotional toll on a team, both during preparation as well as the game. The Ducks secondary loses its best player -- a potential first-round NFL draft pick -- and a veteran leader, a guy everyone counted on. Think Mathis or Seisay will have some butterflies when they see Greene, who caught 93 passes for 1,306 yards this season, coming his way? Think Oregon's safeties will be asked to play differently than they have all season with Ifo in street clothes?

The Ducks secondary will be less talented and less confident without Ekpre-Olomu.

Injuries? Oregon's had a few. It lost offensive tackle Tyler Johnston, a 26-game starter, and No. 1 receiver Bralon Addison before the season began. It saw emerging tight end Pharaoh Brown go down on Nov. 8 against Utah. It's been without All-Pac-12 center Hroniss Grasu for three games. It's seen several other key players miss games, including offensive tackle Jake Fisher, running back Thomas Tyner and defensive end Arik Armstead.

Yet the general feeling was the Ducks had survived. And, in fact, thrived, scrapping their way to the No. 2 seed in the CFP. By scrapping we mean winning their last eight games by an average of 26 points since suffering their lone loss to Arizona.

That, in itself, will be something the Oregon locker room will look at and point to as it gets ready for FSU. This is an elite program, one that can overcome adversity, even an injury to perhaps the team's second-best player behind a certain guy who plays behind center.

But there is no changing the fact that Oregon is worse without Ekpre-Olomu, and against a team like FSU, the defending national champions and winners of 29 consecutive games, you don't want to be at anything but your best.

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