1. The popular knock on Utah stems from the fact that they only had 62 passing yards last week, but they keep finding other ways to win. Will the Utes’ formula be enough in a big showdown against USC this Saturday?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I say yes. Utah’s defense is going to be stout and Nate Orchard is going to have a monster game, getting after Cody Kessler. The Utes have the highest sack percentage (12.1 percent) of any team in the nation, and if we’re doing over/under for 3.5 sacks from the Utes in this game, I’m going with the over. And with Kessler struggling, the Trojans will try to lean more on Buck Allen, but bad news for Buck. The Utes have the best run defense in the conference, allowing just 2.85 yards per rush (Stanford is in second with 2.89). They’ve given up just three rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth in the country). On top of that, Utah’s special teams are going to ball out. USC has given up 13.3 yards per punt return (112th nationally) and have allowed almost one-fifth of kickoffs to be returned at least 30 yards. Kaelin Clay? Go for it … just leave out the Heisman pose this time. As long as Utah’s offense is good enough (and with Devontae Booker coming off that Oregon State performance, I’m not super worried), the Utes take care of business.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: This will be a very close game, and although this whole Travis Wilson/Kendal Thompson quarterback shuffle isn't ideal (Wilson will start this week), Utah can succeed even with an anemic passing attack. That's because a strong rushing attack and a powerful defense form a potent combination. Booker has eclipsed the 150-yard mark in three consecutive weeks (he hit 229 yards his last time out), and that forms an intriguing matchup with a USC defense that has actually been good against the run since its debacle at Boston College. No discussion of Utah's chances is complete without an acknowledgement of #SackLackCity, the location of Saturday's game. Chantel mentioned Orchard; his 10.5-sack effort this season trails only Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha nationally. On a team-wide level, no one in the nation is even close to matching Utah's sack production, which stands at 5.5 per game. Second place is 4.0 sacks per game, and the Utes are on pace to post a staggering 71.5 sacks this season. The Trojans do have the athleticism to potentially burn Utah's ferocious pass rush, but it's really tough to bet against Kyle Whittingham's unit in its raucous home environment.
2. Rich Rodriguez vs. Mike Leach: How great offensive minds square off in the Palouse. How many points will we in Arizona-Washington State?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: I don’t think it’ll be quite as crazy as Cal-Wazzu, but, I think we’ll see at least 49 points combined.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Well, Cal-Wazzu is an insane standard to live up to (119 combined points), but I think we're going to see some offensive madness in the Palouse. Both the Arizona defense (allowing 5.9 yards per play) and the Washington State defense (allowing 6.0 yards per play) rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in that statistic, so that'll leave Leach and Rodriguez room to score. I have a feeling both teams will hit the 40s in this one.
3. Conversely, how few points will we see at Stanford-Oregon State? The Cardinal’s defense had great success against Oregon State last year, but Stanford's offense is the Pac-12’s worst in terms of scoring now, and the Beavers are playing solid defense.

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Twenty-eight or fewer. I bet we’ll see three touchdowns and maybe a field goal.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: Stanford is favored by 13 points here, and some jokesters on Twitter have asked if the number 13 is the spread or the over/under for this one. I think we'll see more points than people expect: The Cardinal will have receiver Devon Cajuste back, and they'll be missing key defensive linemen David Parry and Aziz Shittu. That should count for at least a few Oregon State points.
[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressRoyce Freeman has a bright future at Oregon.
4. Which freshman or sophomore in the conference will be an All-American by the time he graduates?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Oregon running back Royce Freeman. He’s an absolute man-child. I saw him wearing a backpack one day and I thought it was a mini backpack because it looked so small on him. But then when I looked more closely I realized it was a normal backpack, it just looked mini-sized on him. But it’s not just his physical size that makes him great. He’s elusive. He’s fast. His vision is improving. And if you look at the progress he has made from Game 1 to Game 7 of the Ducks’ season, imagine what he’ll do in the next two or three years.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: I like Chantel's pick. I also think that Arizona running back Nick Wilson is doing a heck of job carrying the freshman torch. His 6.4 yards per carry leads the the top Pac-12 running backs. And even though he's not as big as Freeman, Wilson still packs a physical punch -- just ask Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
5. Statistically, Cal has the worst defense in the conference. If you could take any defensive player in the Pac-12 and put him on the Bears, who would you pick and why?

  • Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Initially I considered Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha, because any team would be better with him in its front seven. But I’ve decided to go with Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson. He doesn’t lead the conference in tackles (that’s Scooby Wright III), but he makes things happen on defense. And what I think Cal needs more than a stout pass rusher is a straight playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears have forced just nine fumbles and of those nine they’ve only recovered three. Thompson has forced and recovered three fumbles alone. I think he could make things happen for the Bears.
  • Lombardi/@LombardiESPN: The most valuable asset for a defense is a dangerous body that can attract and swallow multiple blocks, and no Pac-12 player provides more value in this regard than an athletic fire hydrant Danny Shelton: 339 pounds, 7.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss. I'll let David Shaw's father Willie defend my position: "If you give me a choice between a great cornerback and a great defensive lineman, I'll take the great defensive lineman. Because a great defensive lineman can make an average corner look great."
6. Word/phrase association.

Jennings/@ChantelJennings:

a. Pac-12 South: Ultimate chaos

b. December 6: Anyone’s guess

c. Wazzu: So close yet so far

d. Andy Phillips: Money

e. Hau'oli Kikaha: I’m glad I don’t play quarterback in the Pac-12

f. Buck Allen: Tank

Lombardi/@LombardiESPN:

a. Pac-12 South: Minefield

b. December 6: Talking scoreboard (Bay Area radio listeners understand)

c. Wazzu: Poor Connor Halliday

d. Andy Phillips: Automatic

e. Hau'oli Kikaha: A name fit for a sack master

f. Buck Allen: So why didn't Lane Kiffin play him?

Pac-12 Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
9:00
AM ET
Why Washington State will win: Washington State has been so, so close in so many games. The Cougars' record doesn't really speak to what kind of a team they are, and if the defensive line can get some pressure on Anu Solomon and limit Nick Wilson, then I think Connor Halliday is going to be able to put up enough yards to have the Cougars come away with this win. Halliday has been so sharp recently. In the last four games he has completed 173 of 263 passes (66 percent) and thrown for 1,879 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. That's 7.1 yards per attempt for Halliday. He's going to be able to get one of these wins if he does enough and the ball bounces their way just one or two times more. My bet is that day comes Saturday. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Arizona will win: Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez know how to engineer an efficient offense, so I think this game will be a close shootout. That’s why Arizona has the edge here. Aside from one missed field goal attempt to end their game against USC, the Wildcats have been absolute nails in the fourth quarter, while the Cougars have been the exact opposite. Since Washington State is desperate, this game will come down to its final few possessions, but Solomon is developing a reputation as a quarterback who comes through in those spots. -- David Lombardi

Why Washington will win: After losing their eleventh straight to the Ducks, the Huskies are certainly thrilled to be playing anyone but Oregon this weekend. Chris Petersen’s squad preys on turnovers; they can get back to forcing them in the electricity of their home environment. And although Washington’s offense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12, I’m not yet sold on ASU’s defense. We need to see more than one solid performance against a struggling Stanford offense to believe the Sun Devils have turned the corner. Washington will move the ball enough to win. -- David Lombardi

Why Arizona State will win: Arizona State is going to go with the Oregon blueprint to beat the Huskies. Taylor Kelly or Mike Bercovici is going to be accurate and efficient in the air, and D.J. Foster is going to get work done on the ground. Defensively, the Sun Devils will frustrate Cyler Miles and force him into a turnover or two. Another road win is coming for ASU, and with it, look for the Sun Devils to sneak into the top 15 come Sunday. -- Chantel Jennings

Unanimous Pac-12 picks

Why Oregon wins: While I think Cal has the offense and receivers to tax the Oregon secondary a bit, the defense isn’t there (especially sans Brennan Scarlett) to slow the Ducks down. Oregon is getting healthier, while Cal is starting to lose some key players. Really like the improvement we’ve seen from the Bears. But I don’t see them at Oregon’s level yet. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Utah wins: At some point, home field has to count for something, right? Rice-Eccles is a hostile environment and the MUSS will be out in force. If the Utes can get even marginal quarterback play -- enough to give Devontae Booker more six-man boxes than seven -- then they’ll have the offense and defense to control the tempo and dictate the game. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Stanford wins: This is going to be a low-scoring affair, but expect Oregon State's score to be lower than Stanford's, because the Cardinal defense is going to be swarming. With three losses already, the Cardinal are going to want to show the conference what's up and that even though they might not be perfect, they're still competitive and know how to win games. They'll get the job done at home. -- Chantel Jennings

Why UCLA wins: UCLA turnovers are the only way this game stays remotely close. The Bruins just have too much explosive firepower on both sides of the ball, so this will be a struggle for the Buffs. Of course, UCLA kept Cal in the game with three costly turnovers last week. But they still won because of Brett Hundley’s explosiveness, and that’ll again be a nice safety cushion in Boulder. -- David Lombardi

Pac-12 morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
8:00
AM ET
Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home.

Leading off

If you believe what Todd Graham has been saying all along -- that Taylor Kelly is his starting quarterback once he's back to 100 percent -- then you can expect to see Kelly at the helm for the No. 14 Sun Devils when they travel to Washington this weekend.

Speaking with the media on Wednesday after practice, Kelly said he feels 100 percent and is ready to go.

Here's an excerpt from Zach Buchanan's piece in The Arizona Republic:
Kelly insists he's capable of making all the movements required of playing quarterback, which in ASU's system also means a lot of running the ball on read options. If he's worried about anything, it's a bit of mental rust.

Kelly has been throwing in some capacity for a few weeks, but nothing prepares you for game action.

"The main thing I was worried about was my eyes, trusting my eyes and the game speed and stuff," Kelly said. "It's been a really great experience this week, and things are going to work great."

During Kelly's absence, Mike Bercovici led the Sun Devils to a 2-1 record with wins over USC and Stanford.

The flip side

ASU's opponent, may or may not have its starter back for Saturday's matchup. Cyler Miles is still day-to-day after suffering a concussion in the loss last week to Oregon. Redshirt freshman Troy Williams has been taking first-team reps. Here's what Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith told reporters after practice Wednesday:
I think he’s understanding and throwing the ball really accurately. That was the slight edge we thought Jeff (Lindquist)brought in the first game. And then we were really pleased at how Troy created some offense with his arm (against Oregon). He really has some arm talent, and that showed in the last month.

Williams was 5-of 10-for 37 yards against the Ducks. He rushed five times for 28 yards and a touchdown.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

Andre Yruretagoyena talks about getting his ears pierced, running without pants and his kitten. Seriously.

You just knew it was going to make an appearance ...

Pac-12 mailbag: South rising

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
9:00
PM ET
Welcome to the mailbag. I pray come and crush a cup of wine. And follow me on Twitter.

Arthur in Poulsbo, Washington writes: If the Sun Devils win the rest of their games (big if), do you think the UCLA game with Bercovici's first start, will hurt their chances in getting into the playoffs?

Kevin Gemmell: I think a one-loss Pac-12 champion is a lock, whether that's ASU, Arizona, Utah or Oregon.

But since you're talking about ASU specifically, let's look at the schedule: at Washington (a team that started the year ranked), vs. Utah (a top 20 team as of this week), versus Notre Dame (a top 10 team this week), at Oregon State, versus WSU and at Arizona (a top 15 team).

Combine all of that with the fact they have already beaten two ranked teams and their lone loss was at home to No. 11 (at the time), I think the Playoff Selection Committee would look very, very favorably on the Sun Devils for going 11-1.

Here's the catch, they probably won't. And Arizona and Utah probably wouldn't go 11-1, either (they all play each other, anyway). Oregon has the "easiest" road the rest of the way, so the Ducks might end up with just one loss. But would you be shocked if they didn't? I sure wouldn't be.

A one-loss Pac-12 champion is a sure-thing. Take it to the bank. It gets dicey with a 2-loss team. But even that I think might be safe -- if the committee members truly take depth of conference and strength of schedule into account.

This is a brave and scary new world we're entering. Year 1 will go a long way toward setting some precedents.




Derek in Cedar Rapids, Iowa writes: Well, that was a brutal display by the Cardinal offense on Saturday! My question has to do with the explanation that Stanford is lacking a 220-pound back to run between the tackles, and that is the reason that the offense is so poor. Yes, Tyler Gaffney always seemed to fall forward for an extra yard last year, but how much of this has to do with an offensive line that is not (yet) living up to its recruiting rankings? If the blocking is what it needs to be, shouldn't Remound Wright, Barry Sanders and company be able to hit the hole for nice, positive gains? In other words, how much of this struggle has to do with the revamped offensive line, rather than Gaffney joining Stepfan Taylor and Toby Gerhart in the NFL?

Gemmell: The answer to your question is yes, and yes. Yes, the Cardinal have not found a reliable back to give them, at least, 15 carries a game consistently. And yes, the offensive line has not lived up to the considerable hype it garnered when these guys were first recruited.

Does that mean they never will? Of course not. Remember, Andrus Peat is the only returning starter of the bunch. The rest of them -- while having seen a little playing time in the past -- are first-year starters.

But it's not all on the line. Because in Stanford's scheme, pass protection is a huge responsibility for the backs. And none of them have excelled in that department. For as outstanding as Gaffney and Taylor were at carrying the load, they were also very good at reading defenses and picking up blitzes. This wouldn't have happened in those days. Or this.

It is a combination of everything all snowballing into an avalanche of offensive inefficiency. You take an inexperienced line, combine it with backs who haven't done a great job in pass protection/getting extra yards and a quarterback who hasn't played particularly well, and you have the worst offense in the conference.




Mark in Phoenix writes: It was a dominating weekend for the Pac 12 South over the North. Is it too soon to remove the justifier of "so far" and declare that the Pac 12 South is better than the North?

Gemmell: By my count, the Pac-12 South is 7-4 against the North in their 11 inter-division matchups this year. Advantage, South.

Five of the six Pac-12 South teams are ranked, compared to just one team from the North. Advantage, South.

Every team but Oregon in the North has at least two conference losses, while the South has four teams with one conference loss and another with two. Advantage South.

The North has Oregon, the league's highest-ranked team at No. 6 and likely the Pac-12's best chance at making the College Football Playoff. Advantage, North.

Yes, the South is clearly the dominant division right now. That will sort itself out in the coming weeks with showdowns like USC at Utah, Arizona at UCLA and Utah at ASU. And then there are the rivalry games at the end of the year.

But outside of the SEC West, I don't think there is another division in football that is as nasty as the South.

The North has a chance to right things in the coming weeks. Arizona travels to Washington State this week and ASU heads to Washington. UCLA at Washington and Oregon at Utah in a couple of weeks will be interesting.

A rising South, in one sense, is great for the conference. The USC-Stanford rivalry is at a tipping point, as is the Arizona-Oregon matchup. There has never been a better time to be a fan of Pac-12 football. On the flip side, the power shift makes the league that much more balanced, which leads to further criticism of the league nationally.

I think back to a quote Mark Helfrich gave me a couple of weeks ago, when he said the Pac-12 has a perception that parity equals mediocrity, but in other leagues, parity equals strength.

Hopefully when the music stops and the four playoff teams are named, the Pac-12's depth will be an asset, not a deterrent.
video
Several Pac-12 commitments and prospects saw some significant movement in the updated ESPN 300 rankings released Wednesday. Overall, the conference holds commitments from two of the top 22 prospects in the country and 26 of the top 300. With fewer than four months until signing day, let's take a look at where the Pac-12 stands in the ESPN 300.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
8:00
AM ET
4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42

Leading off

It's depth chart Wednesday! All 12 teams are in action this week -- no byes. Actually, it will be like this for the next two weeks. So that's exciting! Here are the most current depth charts for all the teams in action this week, save UCLA, which doesn't post a weekly depth chart. As always, I'll note any significant changes below. Notes
Heisman updates

Usually in this space every Wednesday, we've been linking the straw poll from Heismanpundit.com. However Chris Huston, friend of the blog who runs that site, has put it on hold while he does some work for the official Heisman site. We wish him the best.

So today we'll update you with the ESPN.com Heisman poll. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota still sits behind Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. But he closed the gap last week with his performance against Washington.

Here's how the latest poll shakes out, followed by their total points:
  1. Dak Prescott (47)
  2. Marcus Mariota (42)
  3. Melvin Gordon (25)
  4. Tie: Amari Cooper (9)
    Jameis Winston (9)

Prescott and Mariota were the only players receiving first-place votes. Looks like it's a two-man race to the finish.

News/notes/team reports
Just for fun

A cool behind-the-scenes photo journal of UCLA's trip to Cal.

Bravo, Oregon fans. Bravo.



The Trojans will rock these shiny new lids on Saturday.

Pac-12 by the numbers: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
6:30
PM ET
Here's another look at random stats pertaining to the Pac-12.

Friday

No. 6 Oregon vs. California at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
  • Oregon has scored 79 points off turnovers, most in the conference.
  • Oregon has gained 61.9 percent of the possible yards on offense, most in the conference.
  • Cal leads the nation in touchdowns in conference games (26).
  • Oregon true freshman RB Royce Freeman has scored 12 touchdowns, most in the conference.
  • Cal QB Jared Goff ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 with an 80.8 QBR, which ranks No. 6 nationally.
Saturday

No. 25 UCLA at Colorado

  • Colorado is second in the Pac-12 averaging 49.3 pass attempts per game, but allows a conference-low 1.71 sacks per game.
  • The Bruins have had 13 drives of 80 yards or more, the most in the Pac-12.
  • UCLA picks up at least one first down on 82.4 percent of its drive, second-most in the Pac-12 behind Arizona.
  • Colorado has gone for it on fourth down 22 times, the most in the Pac-12.
  • In goal-to-go situations, both UCLA and Colorado have both scored touchdowns on 11 of 13 attempts with two made field goals.
Oregon State at Stanford

  • Stanford is tops in the conference in yard margin per game in Pac-12 play, averaging 113 more yards than its opponents.
  • Stanford has committed four turnovers in the red zone-- six teams in the conference have committed none.
  • Oregon State averages the most seconds of possession per play in the conference (28.3), but is followed closely by Stanford (28.0).
  • Oregon State scores on 37.2 percent of its drives, while Stanford is at 31.4 -- two of the three lowest rates in the Pac-12.
  • Stanford did not lose to Oregon State during its school-record 72-week streak in the AP Top 25 that was snapped this week. The Cardinal's last loss to Oregon State came in 2009, when it was unranked.
No. 15 Arizona at Washington State

  • Opposing defenses have committed 17 penalties against Arizona, the most against any Pac-12 team.
  • Arizona averages the fewest seconds of possession per play in the Pac-12 (20.1).
  • Arizona RB Nick Wilson owns the Pac-12's longest rush of the season -- an 85-yard touchdown run against UTSA. Only two other players have a carry longer than 57 yards yards.
  • Three WSU receivers – Vince Mayle, River Cracraft and Dom Williams – have a reception of 84 yards or longer. Of the rest of the conference, only Arizona (Cayleb Jones and Austin Hill) has more than one.
  • WSU punts on just 29.5 percent of its drives, the third-lowest percentage in the Pac-12.
No. 20 USC at No. 19 Utah
  • Utah averages 4.83 drives per game without a first down, the most in the Pac-12. USC averages 3.86, the second most.
  • Utah RB Devontae Booker averages 187.7 yards rushing in conference games, the second most among Power 5 running backs behind Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (217) ... and USC's Buck Allen is far behind. He ranks No. 6 (149).
  • USC QB Cody Kessler is among the most accurate quarterbacks in the country. His completion percentage (69.5) ranks No. 5 and his interception percentage (0.4) is No. 3.
  • Utah (5.18) and USC (5.36) rank No. 2 and No. 3 respectively in yards per play allowed in Pac-12 play.
No. 14 Arizona State at Washington
  • Washington has turned the ball over on just 3.4 percent of its possessions, the lowest rate in the Pac-12.
  • Arizona State is one of five teams in the country averaging over 320 yards passing and over 190 yards rushing on offense.
  • Arizona State’s defense has committed 11 penalties that resulted in first downs, second fewest in the country.
  • ASU averages 6.74 yards per play, which ranks second in the Pac-12 and 15th nationally.
  • Washington averages 181.4 passing yards per game, the fewest in the Pac-12.
Past weeks

Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8
Criticism and questions are swirling around Stanford following another anemic offensive performance in Saturday's 26-10 loss to Arizona State, and coach David Shaw is taking full responsibility for the team's struggles on that side of the ball.

“I’ve done a poor job of structuring our offense so that our guys can be successful," Shaw said Tuesday. "We have to utilize our personnel better."

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKevin Hogan is completing only 54.5 percent of his passes over the past three games after completing 71 percent in Stanford's 3-1 start.
Stanford has dropped to the Pac-12 cellar in terms of scoring offense. The Cardinal are averaging only 17.6 points per game against Power 5 competition, roughly two touchdowns below the Pac-12 average (30.2 per game). In Tempe, Stanford managed only 10 points, 288 yards of total offense, and 4.7 yards per play, all figures that paled in comparison to what Weber State, New Mexico and Colorado accomplished offensively against Arizona State. The Sun Devils had surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in four straight games, but Stanford -- once feared for its powerful rushing attack -- managed only 76 yards on the ground.

Shaw said quarterback Kevin Hogan, who finished 19-for-39 against a steady diet of Arizona State pressure, is receiving a lot of unwarranted blame for Stanford's struggles. He instead suggested that the Cardinal coaching staff has not successfully tailored its offensive approach to put Hogan and a bevy of playmakers in position to succeed.

"I’ve got to help our guys so they can just be the great athletes they are," Shaw said. "We’ve sputtered too many times. I need to adjust accordingly... We've got too good of personnel in our offense to score [so few points]."

Shaw would not elaborate on intricate details of Stanford's potential offensive adjustments, but the attack has come under fire for relying heavily on its traditional power rushing, play-action oriented approach even though it has become increasingly apparent that the team's decrease in size at the running back position has made that strategy less effective. In the past, Stanford has enjoyed the services of bruisers such as Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney. Now, the Cardinal seem to enjoy comparative advantages on the outside instead, behind big receiving talents Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and a trio of young tight ends.

Shaw said he wants to capitalize on that without drastically altering Stanford's scheme midseason.

“I’m taking this one personally because I look at our guys, and I’ve got to help them," he said. “I have to find a way to utilize our personnel better. I just have to.”

Stanford has partially reopened a competition at right guard. Although Shaw said Johnny Caspers has played well enough to keep his starting spot there, Brendon Austin is getting an opportunity to earn playing time.

The Cardinal host Oregon State this Saturday in what promises to be a test for the team's staggering offense: The Beavers rank second -- behind only Stanford -- in the Pac-12's total defense category. The Cardinal's heavily anticipated visit to Autzen Stadium looms the week after.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:00
AM ET
The exodus is here, the happy ones are near;
Let's get together before we get much older.

Leading off

The Eliminator blew through the Pac-12 this week with brimstone and hell-fire, slashing its way through a quarter of the league. You can now add Stanford, Oregon State and Washington to the teams officially out of a contention for a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff. After holding on by their roots, paws and teeth, the Cardinal, Huskies and Beavers all suffered losses that the Eliminator deems too significant to recover from. Her justice is swift, if not fair. Here's some thoughts on the Huskies:
Losing 11 consecutive games to Oregon is pretty bad, but losing in the manner in which they lost to the Ducks was even worse. Oregon dominated in every facet of the game, and Washington proved that Chris Petersen's first season in the Power 5 is not going to be like his first season at Boise State.

So who is left? Arizona and Oregon are the two Pac-12 teams still listed as "In Contention" while Arizona State, UCLA, USC and Utah continue to dangle "On the Fence."

Cardinal seeing red

As noted above, things haven't gone swimmingly for the two-time defending conference champions. Athlon Sports took a look at some of the issues facing the Cardinal. And if you're looking on the offensive side of the ball, there are more than a few. They key in specifically on the offensive line:
The most likely reason Stanford’s offense has been struggling this season may be due to the fact the Cardinal had to start an almost entirely new offensive line this season. Stanford lost four starters up front, as well as a starting tight end from 2013. Good teams tend to have experience and depth on the offensive line, and that does not appear to be the case for Stanford this season and it is showing. Stanford has allowed 15 sacks this season, which ranks 73rd nationally.

Also from Athlon, a look at some crazy Pac-12 stats, and why the Utes must be taken seriously in the South.

News/notes/practice reports
Just for fun (the pucker-up edition)

By now, you've probably seen "The Kiss", a moment of celebratory passion between ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici and his girlfriend, who also happens to be an ASU cheerleader.



Here's a little story on the lip-locking moment. The Pac-12 blog isn't quite ready to place it among history's best kisses ... like this one ... this one ... or this one. But it ain't bad. However, you must remember this ...
A slight sense of normalcy returned to the Pac-12 this past weekend, but fear not -- it's still plenty weird out West. Home teams actually posted a winning record (3-2) this past weekend, improving their season season mark to a still-dismal 7-16.

Stanford, the two-time defending champion, is staggering, so Oregon has established a grip on the Pac-12 North. Meanwhile, let's not pretend we have a bead on the minefield that is the Pac-12 South. Four teams are tied at the top in the loss column, and a fifth -- preseason favorite UCLA -- hovers right behind them with two losses. It's a mess of epic proportions.

With USC visiting Utah this weekend, we will see some moving and shaking in the South. Let the horse race continue around the second bend. Here is Week 9:

The delicious appetizer: Oregon vs. Cal (at Levi's Stadium)

A couple weeks ago, Cal enjoyed its time in sole possession of the Pac-12 North lead, but that stay was as short-lived as most expected it to be. Though Jared Goff has emerged as one of the league's elite passers (9.1 yards per attempt, 24 touchdowns, four interceptions), the Bears are hindered by a defense that struggles to tackle in critical situations. That was the story of their 36-34 loss to UCLA, even though a trio of Bruins' turnovers kept that game close. It's also bad news entering a matchup with an Oregon team that is beginning to fire on all cylinders. The Ducks blasted Washington 45-20 behind four touchdowns from true freshman Royce Freeman. He is a six-foot, 230-pound tank -- exactly the type of player who can turn the Bears into falling dominoes.

Goff will need to deliver an epic performance in his duel with Marcus Mariota. Combined numbers for these two: 43 touchdowns, four picks.

Game with the biggest College Football Playoff implications: USC at Utah

Salt Lake City hosts a de facto College Football Playoff elimination game. The Arizona State-Washington battle in Seattle might have shared this designation had the Huskies found a way to get it done at Autzen Stadium, but they were run out of the building. So USC (5-2 overall) and Utah (5-1 overall) square off in the Pac-12's marquee Week 9 game. This one is fun on many levels: The Utes are coming into their own as a rugged defense (allowing 4.7 yards per play), while the Trojans are brimming with offensive confidence following their 56-28 win against Colorado, during which Cody Kessler threw a touchdown pass on 27 percent of his attempts (his seven touchdowns broke Matt Barkley's school record).

This game also features the Pac-12's two most productive running backs: USC's Buck Allen (130 yards per game) and Utah's Devontae Booker (124 yards per game). Buckle up, Rice-Eccles Stadium will be shaking.

The proving grounds game/redemption opportunity: Oregon State at Stanford

Week 8 was bitterly disappointing for these teams. The Beavers lost 29-23 at home in double overtime to a Utah team that managed only 62 passing yards, and Stanford managed less offensive production against Arizona State than Weber State, New Mexico, and Colorado. Talk about a reversal of fortune: The Cardinal's 26-10 loss to the Sun Devils came on the very same field where they dominated offensively and won the Pac-12 championship last season. Judging by margin of victory, that was their worst setback since falling 53-30 to Oregon in 2011.

Unless Stanford figures it out offensively, points will likely be scarce in this game. The Cardinal's defense still leads the nation allowing only 3.8 yards per play, and it has proven to be a rough matchup for the Beavers' offense. Meanwhile, Oregon State's defense has been surprisingly efficient, surrendering 4.9 yards per play (third in the Pac-12), so it's unclear if 13.5 is the spread or the over/under in this one.

Opposing directions bowl: Arizona State at Washington

The Sun Devils delivered a fantastic all-around performance in their 26-10 pounding of Stanford, and the Huskies were on the receiving end of a 45-20 whipping in Eugene. So both clubs are trending in opposite directions here, but they are still a combined 10-3. Washington is desperate to right the ship at home, where its havoc-wreaking defense (nation-best five touchdowns) thrives. Meanwhile, Arizona State has another chance to solidify legitimacy after two straight energizing wins. A week after facing Stanford's anemic attack, the Sun Devils face a Washington offense that is ranked dead last in the Pac-12. That is medicine for a once-struggling ASU defense.

Where great offensive minds meet: Arizona at Washington State

Time to change gears: With Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach squaring off, there should be no shortage of total offense on the Palouse. The Cougars are desperate; they need to win four of their last five just to make a bowl game. Connor Halliday is already on pace to shatter the FBS single season-passing yards record, and Anu Solomon brings less gaudy numbers but a better 5-1 record into this game. Both teams are coming off bye weeks, so both offensive game plans should be beyond polished Saturday afternoon.

The afterthought: UCLA at Colorado

The Bruins overcame severe sloppiness in their 36-34 win at Cal, and Colorado never had a chance in the 56-28 loss at the Coliseum. At 0-4 in conference play, the Buffs are desperate, and it's tough to spot a win on their remaining schedule. The Bruins must iron out their galling turnover issue (quarterback Brett Hundley has been responsible for eight giveaways -- opponents have scored touchdowns off seven of them) and frequent trouble with defensive breakdowns. Folsom Field might be a good place to start that process, because a home showdown with Arizona waits UCLA after this one.
video

Danny Kanell and Adam Rittenberg look back on Texas A&M and South Carolina from week 1. Did the first big game of the season point us in the wrong direction?
Good times can sure escape quickly in this volatile college football world.

Last December, David Shaw beamed as he walked alongside Kevin Hogan down the Sun Devil Stadium tunnel, bouquet of roses in hand. His Stanford team had just delivered a virtuoso offensive performance, beating Arizona State 38-14 to secure the Pac-12 championship. Pasadena would be the Cardinal's next stop.

After 10 short months, the Cardinal returned to the spot of their greatest 2013 glory on Saturday. But their power rushing game had disappeared, and offensive stability had vanished with it. So, at the very place where exhilarating victory once smiled, crushing defeat waited instead. The Sun Devils' 26-10 win administered payback, and the same Tempe location that had seen Stanford Rose Bowl dreams realized less than a year prior saw them extinguished Saturday.

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesStanford, led by QB Kevin Hogan, is in unfamiliar territory after a tough loss against Arizona State.
At 4-3 overall, the Cardinal have been eliminated from contention for the inaugural College Football Playoff. The autopsy of those hopes begins now: I'll revisit the pregame questions of emphasis below.

Does Stanford still have offensive ownership over ASU?

No, it appears as if Stanford no longer has offensive ownership over anybody. The Cardinal's attack, which has sputtered on-and-off ever since quarterback Andrew Luck's departure after 2011, has fallen from grace. One wonders if this is rock bottom for the unit, or if matters can get worse. Arizona State, after all, was ranked in the bottom tier of Pac-12 defenses entering Saturday's game. But during the loss, the Cardinal managed only 10 points, 288 yards of total offense, and 4.7 yards per play.

All of those numbers paled in comparison to what Weber State, New Mexico, and Colorado accomplished against ASU this season. The Sun Devils had given up more than 200 rushing yards in four consecutive contests, but Stanford -- a program very recently known for a vaunted power running game -- managed only 76 yards on the ground.

ASU played fearless, aggressive defense. The Cardinal were missing wide receiver Devon Cajuste, so ASU coach Todd Graham challenged Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan to beat his team through the air. Again, Stanford's inability to create any sort of leverage on the ground meant Hogan was never able to find his playmaking comfort zone. In fact, he didn't see a designed run -- one of his primary strengths -- until the second half. At that point, it was too late: Hogan was already well on his way to a shaky 19-for-39 performance. ASU sensed a vulnerable, discombobulated Stanford offense, and it pounced.

Can ASU move the ball against the Cardinal?

It was still a grind for the Sun Devils, but they did find cracks in Stanford's excellent defensive armor -- though a critical Cardinal turnover and injuries along the defensive front certainly helped ASU's effort.

This was a brutal week for Stanford. Days before departing to Tempe, versatile defensive lineman Aziz Shittu was likely lost for the season because of a non-contact injury suffered in practice. That loss thinned out the defensive line. Then, David Parry -- the unit's anchor -- didn't play at all in the second half of Saturday's game because of an undisclosed issue. The Cardinal resorted to reserve Nate Lohn along the front, and they were also forced to burn the redshirt of true freshman Harrison Phillips.

The situation was eerily reminiscent of 2013, when injuries decimated Stanford's defensive line and rocked the foundation of the team's 3-4 scheme.

The Cardinal's defense still clawed to keep Saturday's game respectable, but the lack of offensive support doomed that cause. ASU's excellent, balanced offensive game plan utilized D.J. Foster and powerful receiver Jaelen Strong to ball-control perfection: The Sun Devils ate up more than 35 minutes of possession against Stanford, a team that usually likes to hog the clock for itself.

Will the special teams difference come into play?

Yes, but in the opposite way of how the Cardinal expected it to come into play.

Stanford entered the game leading the conference with more than 21 yards per punt return, while ASU was last averaging 0.9 yards per return. Advantage, Ty Montgomery, right?

Note so fast. Perhaps feeling extra pressure to make something happen since Stanford's offense was so stagnant, Montgomery made one of the worst decisions of his career in the second quarter. He tried to catch a punt that was sailing over his head, only to muff it. The Sun Devils recovered deep in Cardinal territory, and they punched in what proved to be the winning touchdown.

Moving forward

There is no way to beat around the bush: Saturday's loss was a devastating gut punch in all facets of the game for Stanford. With plenty more difficult games looming (hello, Autzen Stadium in two weeks), the Cardinal will have to scratch and claw beyond this disappointment to salvage 2014. I'll further examine those efforts later this week.

Pac-12 morning links

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:00
AM ET
I like it. What's not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Good.

Leading off

The biggest news is that Stanford dropped out of the rankings after its 72-week run in the top-25. Sorry, Cardinal. But maybe a sweep of the state of Oregon over the next two weekends will get you back in. Kyle Bonagura went a bit deeper on the subject, which you can read here.

Here are the Pac-12 teams in the rankings. As always, the AP rank is first, followed by the coaches poll.
  • Oregon 6-7
  • Arizona State 14-14
  • Arizona 15-15
  • Utah 19-19
  • USC 20-21
  • UCLA 25-NR

Stanford was the only conference team to pick up any votes in the AP poll and in the USA Today coaches' poll. Washington and Stanford both received votes. Check out the complete rankings right here.

Curious how people who cover the conference teams voted? Glad you asked.
And per usual, Heather Dinich gives you a rundown of the playoff picture following last week's football action. She has interesting thoughts on Stanford. Sorry Cardinal, but Dinich says that a three-loss team -- even if it wins the Pac-12 title -- won't make the playoff. Read on here.

Some streaks extended, others stopped right in their tracks

The Oregon Ducks continued their streak over Washington, winning their 11th consecutive game in the series. This kind of dominance in the series reminded The Oregonian's Andrew Greif of the Ducks of yesteryear as it produced a strong run game, solid QB play and, again, a win over the Huskies.
But in their play, a 45-20 victory against the Huskies at Autzen Stadium, the present-day Ducks instead resembled something closer to the grind-'em-up machine of the last decade that brought this program to prominence.

So, the 1994 throwback uniforms made quite a bit of sense, Greif explains. And speaking of those Oregon uniforms, The Huffington Post decided to go through 50 Oregon uniforms that "changed the way we see college football."

And while the Ducks were having usual success in Eugene, the Bruins had unusual success in Berkeley. UCLA hadn't won there since 1998 and it squeaked out a win over the Bears, breaking that streak.

But despite a win, UCLA isn't exactly looking like the top team many expected it to be coming into this season. Everett Cook of The Los Angeles Times writes that -- among a few other things learned in the Bruins' win over the Bears -- that UCLA continues to play down to the level of its competition.

And can we speak of streaks without at least addressing the ongoing Pac-12 road team streak? Utah and UCLA won on the road but USC, Oregon and ASU got work done at home. Does this mean that the magic of the road is gone? Probably not. With some interesting matchups this weekend (Oregon at Cal, UCLA at Colorado, Arizona at Washington State, Arizona State at Washington ... just to name a few), it wouldn't be too surprising to see some road teams walk out of opposing stadiums with a win.

And some shout outs

Let's give props where props deserve to be given. There were quite a few guys who had career days over the weekend in the Pac-12. News/notes/team reports

Pac-12 bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
8:00
PM ET
Just a few weeks ago, it was popular to write off the Pac-12's chances of having a team in the initial College Football Playoff. What was then an overreaction is now just silly.

It's clear Oregon, as the top-ranked one-loss team outside the SEC, controls its own destiny as far as the playoff is concerned. In no way does that guarantee anything, but based on how the Ducks have played since losing at Arizona and what has happened elsewhere in college football, Oregon should feel good about where it is.

The Ducks became the Pac-12's first bowl-eligible team after beating Washington 45-20 on Saturday, but after them the conference remains a jumbled mess. Six others have at least five wins, including five teams in the South Division.

There's no sound way to logically project how this will end up -- too much parity -- but here's our weekly attempt:

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: Arizona
Valero Alamo Bowl: Utah
National University Holiday Bowl: Arizona State
San Francisco Bowl: USC
Hyundai Sun Bowl: UCLA
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Stanford
Cactus Bowl: Washington
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Cal
* at large

Stanford's AP poll streak ends

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:52
PM ET
Welcome back, UCLA. Goodbye, Stanford.

Oregon headlines the list of six Pac-12 teams ranked in this week's AP poll, which does not include the Cardinal for the first time since the second week of the 2010 season. The Cardinal's school-record, 72-week run ended following a 26-10 loss to Arizona State on Saturday, which also propelled the Sun Devils to No. 14.

Oregon jumped Baylor, Michigan State and Notre Dame to No. 6 and is the nation's No. 3-ranked one-loss team behind No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Auburn.

Arizona, which was idle this week, is a spot behind its in-state rival at No. 15.

The most anticipated game in the Pac-12 this week will be No. 20 USC's trip to No. 19 Utah, which is one of just two games in the country that will feature a pair of ranked teams.

After a 36-34 win against Cal, UCLA re-enters the poll at No. 25. The preseason No. 7 team was unranked last week after consecutive losses to Utah and Oregon.

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