Senior College Football Columnist

The Big Picture: In Pac-12, Stanford and UCLA push past expectations


A former wide receiver for the Cardinal, David Shaw is 20-4 in two seasons at the helm. (Getty Images)  
A former wide receiver for the Cardinal, David Shaw is 20-4 in two seasons at the helm. (Getty Images)  

After a couple of hours of sleep, I'm still stunned Stanford was able to pull off the huge upset of Oregon at Autzen Stadium. Actually, I'm more stunned by the way they did it.

The Cardinal, a three-touchdown underdog, really bottled up the Ducks, holding a team averaging 55 points per game to 14. No one had kept the Ducks under 42 points all season. Oregon didn't do hardly any damage when it ran wide. The Ducks only had one big play the whole night and the Cardinal ran Marcus Mariota down at the end of it and kept squeezing them. Stanford's freshman QB Kevin Hogan, playing in his first road start, matched Mariota the whole night.

What David Shaw has done with the Stanford program needs to be talked about a lot more. The 40-year-old former Cardinal wideout is now 20-4 in two seasons since taking over for Jim Harbaugh, and the Cardinal look like they're at the start of a special run, not at the end of one.

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The brash Harbaugh had worked wonders with Stanford, elevating a dreadful program into a legit national powerhouse. Many thought after Harbaugh (and eventually Luck) left Palo Alto that the Cardinal would eventually drift back off the national radar, but Saturday night was just more evidence that the Cardinal may just be beginning a special run, dismissing any of the skepticism that you can't win big in major college football with the highest of academic standards.

The Cardinal have played 11 true freshmen from what is proving to be a fantastic recruiting class. The hallmark of this program now is a punishing O-line, and that group will only lose one starter next year. Plus, the most talented guys in the program are the young linemen. Hogan looks like the answer at QB. Most of the defense will also return. The biggest challenge at Stanford may actually be hanging on to Shaw as his stock soars.

Meanwhile in the Pac-12 South, the monopoly is officially over. Jim Mora, with an assist from Lane Kiffin and the NCAA, ended it. The Bruins jumped on Southern California early and just looked like the team that wanted the game a whole lot more behind their gifted young QB Brett Hundley and their terrific tailback, Johnathan Franklin.

"Brett never blinked," Bruins OC Noel Mazzone told me late Saturday night. "He never got rattled. Even when the game got closer, he made good reads and hit some big-time throws."

Asked how exactly Mora has turned a talented but underachieving team into a tough, physical bunch, Mazzone paused for a few moments.

"Jim Mora's just a stud," he said. "I don't really know how to put it. He is just the same guy every day. These kids really relate to him. He's certainly got me sold."

Random Stuff

 It didn't sink in till this morning that Georgia -- a team that lost by four TDs to South Carolina, barely beat lowly Kentucky, has beaten only one ranked team (then-No. 2 Florida) and only has beaten two FBS teams with a winning record -- controls its own destiny and is only two wins away from playing in the BCS title game. Wow.

 The story about how unheralded recruit Kevin Hogan ended up at Stanford: Pep Hamilton, the Cardinal offensive coordinator, was tipped off by Hogan's high school coach in the DC area. The coach, former NFL player Leonard Stevens, played at Hamilton's alma mater, Howard, when the young Cardinal OC was starting his coaching career at the FCS program and told him, "You really need to take a look at this kid." Hogan's release may have been a little long and his frame was lanky, but the kid had a strong arm, really good feet and excellent composure. Of course, Hamilton had to sell the rest of the Stanford coaching brass on him, but fast forward a few years and it sure looks like the Cardinal have the guy to replace Andrew Luck.

 John Simon again proved why he's one of the most dominant defensive players in college football, notching four sacks in Ohio State's win at Wisconsin. The sack total is even more impressive when you consider the Badgers don't even try to throw the ball that often.

 Thanks Les Miles for producing the most Les Miles sound bite ever when talking about his players after LSU barely survived against Ole Miss. "You go find them. You go throw your arms around them. You go give them a big kiss on the mouth ... if you're a girl?"

 Tweet of the Day: From Texas A&M QB (and new Heisman frontrunner) Johnny Manziel: @JManziel2 Hahha SIC 'EM BEARS!!!!

 The North Carolina academic scandal just got a lot worse for the school, and the NCAA, which after the latest Dan Kane story, now has to go back to Chapel Hill, doesn't it?

 Sorry I didn't get a chance to see much of the shootout between Oklahoma and WVU. Landry Jones became the latest Big 12 QB to shred the Mountaineers' D, going 38 of 51 for 554 yards and six TDs. The crazy part: as gaudy as that stat-line is, the real jaw-dropper is Tavon Austin piling up 572 all-purpose yards including 344 in his first game at running back. I know it's a little late for this, but any way Austin can play DB too?

 Bet some BC fans wish it was Frank Spaziani who left the Eagles program and Montel Harris who stayed in 2012. Harris, who transferred to Temple, ran for Big East records of 351 yards and seven TDs against Army, a team the Eagles had lost to earlier in the season. And this was after a week where Harris barely practiced due to a banged up knee.

 Tip of the hat to James Franklin and Vanderbilt. Lane Kiffin might not actually be the brashest personality ever hired to run an SEC program in the state of Tennessee in the past five years, but Franklin and his team has backed up all of his bluster.

Derek Dooley was the one who popped off about Vandy after his Vols beat the Commodores last season. The Commodores responded by blasting Tennessee 41-18 -- and the score probably could've been even more lopsided if Franklin had wanted it to be.

Franklin took over a program that had gone 4-20 the previous two seasons before he arrived. He immediately changed the mentality of Vandy football -- much easier said than done. They're headed to a bowl game for the second time in two seasons. And keep in mind: This is a school that only went to four bowls in the previous 120 years of playing college football. His team has a good shot to finish 8-4 -- which would be the first time this program has won that many games in 30 years.

There are expected to be a lot of bigger football programs than Vandy looking for new coaches this winter: Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn and Cal, and it might be a shrewd move to look closer at Franklin.

Vandy, which had only four INTs in its first 10 games, had three against the Vols. That seems to sum up how the ill-fated Derek Dooley Era went in Knoxville.

 I've heard from a source that if Monte Kiffin steps down as the guy running USC's defense after this season, it's likely he'll go back to the NFL as a consultant. Maybe in Seattle.

 Another name to keep in mind with some of these vacancies, from Tennessee to Boston College: Al Golden.

 Maybe we jumped the gun on thinking Michigan OC Al Borges' best option for the offense he wants to run next year will be incoming blue-chipper Shane Morris. Devin Gardner, who played some receiver earlier in the season, has been very impressive at QB this month for the Wolverines, especially Saturday in a rout of Iowa. Gardner was 18 of 23 for 314 yards and three TDs to go with his three rushing TDs. Gardner has accounted for 13 TDs in the past three games, but we'll find out a lot more about him this week at Ohio State.

 Stat of the Day: Oregon forced three turnovers and scored zero points off them.

 Stat of the Day, Take II: Entering Saturday, Chip Kelly was 42-0 when leading after the third quarter. The Ducks are now 42-1 under Kelly when leading after three quarters.

 Stat of the Day, Take III: Arizona sophomore Ka'Deem Carey leads the nation in rushing with 1,585 yards. That's 451 more than the Wildcats had as a team last season when they ranked No. 114 in rushing. Yeah, I think this Rich Rod hire has been a good thing in Tucson.

 Stat of the Day, Take IV: Fourteen of the nation's top 15 teams in turnover margin have won at least eight games. The worst record of that group is 8-3. The one exception: 4-7 Iowa.

 Stat of the Day, Take V: Who says the Pac-12 is a passing league? Three of the nation's top six rushers are from the Pac-12 (Carey, No. 5 Johnathan Franklin and No. 6 Kenjon Barner). The most surprising part in that is the guy I'd say most league observers would've figured to be the conference rushing champ -- Stanford's Stepfan Taylor -- isn't one of them. He's No. 18.

 Just when it looks like the Big East is having a good week off the field comes the latest news. Rutgers and Maryland are in talks to join the Big Ten. Who knows exactly how the dominoes will fall? But it looks like the Big East will see its ninth program bolt since 2004.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for and college football commentator for CBS Sports Network. He is a New York Times Bestselling author, who has written books including Swing Your Sword, Meat Market and Cane Mutiny. Prior to joining CBS, Feldman spent 17 years at ESPN.

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