Posted on: November 6, 2010 11:56 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2010 1:21 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
1. The biggest game of the league's season was played back on Oct. 2. And Oregon won it, 52-31 over Stanford . By this point, with the Ducks at least two games up on the rest of the league (and three on everyone but the Cardinal as soon as they dispose of Arizona ) and second-place Stanford two games up on everyone trailing them , there's absolutely no question who the best two teams in the conference are. Not that the league's schedule-makers could have forseen the Ducks' and Cardinal's dominance, but after a few seaosns with massive (and massively hyped) late-season showdowns with Rose Bowl berths on the line, this season whatever attention the Pac-10 garner will come exclusively from Oregon's run at Glendale.
2. Speaking of which, Oregon is the nation's best second-half team. We'd seen this movie before, against Tennessee , against Stanford, against USC: the Ducks look vaguely sluggish for 30 minutes or slightly more, and just as it appears they might be in genuine trouble, they floor it. Today's edition : a scoreless first quarter, couple of turnovers, an 18-13 lead early third quarter ... and three Duck touchdowns before the period is up, with two more just for fun in the fourth to end the game on 35-3 run. Your final: 53-16. Chip Kelly says he wants to wear his opponents out and crush them down the stretch, and whaddya know, that's what his teams do.
It won't be surprising if Cal or Oregon State take an early lead with the Ducks on the road, won't be a total shock if they carry an edge into the break, or even if they're up after 45 minutes. But we're long past the point where we can expect any team remaining on Oregon's schedule to play them even over the full 60 minutes.
3. Maybe Cal isn't schizophrenic. Maybe they just hate the road. The Bears went up to the Palouse today and nearly handed Paul Wulff his first Pac-10 win in his three seasons at Wazzu , falling behind 10-7 at the half and leading only 14-13 entering the fourth quarter before squeaking by 20-13 . New starting quarterback Brock Mansion didn't make anyone forget the injured Kevin Riley , hitting only 12-of-24 with a pair of picks against the league's worst defense.
Truthfully, we already knew Cal was terrible on the road; the win snapped a six-game losing streak away from Berkeley. But even "six-game losing streak" doesn't quite say "terrible on the road" the way "seven-point win over Washington State" does.
4. Stanford's defense is maybe the league's most underreported story. The Cardinal defense in 2009: 403 yards allowed per-game, 90th in the country. The Cardinal defense in 2010: 330 yards allowed per-game, 30th in the country. And that was before they held Arizona to just three first-half points and no touchdowns until the Stanford offense had already built a 28-3 lead late in the third quarter.
No question that between the likes of Andrew Luck and Chris Owusu and Stepfan Taylor and Jim Harbaugh 's precision pro-style attack, the Cardinal is an offense-first team. But the difference between last year's 8-5 Sun Bowl team and this year's potential 11-1 BCS at-large selection is almost entirely the work first-year defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has done with his starless unit.
5. Oregon State is just another team. The early read on the Beavers was that after near-impossible assignments at Boise State and TCU but a vindication win at Arizona, Mike Riley 's team was better than their record, as they usually are in mid-October.
But after losing in overtime at Washington (losers at home to Arizona State and big losers at home to Stanford and Nebraska ) and now 17-14 at previously-reeling, 3-5 UCLA , it's time to acknowledge that the Beavers aren't top-25 material. In fact, at 4-4 and with games still to come against the Ducks, Cardinal, and Trojans, they may not even be bowl material.
6. Matt Barkley is in a slump. USC escaped Arizona State's upset bid 34-33 late Saturday thanks to some huge plays in the field goal department -- a blocked extra point returned for two Trojan points, a game-winning Joe Houston field goal, a wayward Sun Devil attempt with 90 seconds to play -- but the Trojans won't survive their grueling late-season stretch (starting with next week's visit to Arizona) without better play from their sophomore quarterbacking prodigy. Barkley threw three touchdowns against the Sun Devils, but also threw a pair of interceptions and settled for a mediocre average of 5.8 yards per-pass. Barkley has only dipped below the 7 yards-per-attempt mark three times this season, but it's happened each of the last two weeks. Those two games also account for half of his eight picks for the year. Where's the gunslinger who carpet-bombed Cal and nearly took down Stanford in Palo Alto?
Posted on: November 5, 2010 1:30 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
The "as if Oregon needed another weapon" lead-in is so obvious in a story like this it ought to be avoided, but Oregon has so many weapons it's worrying to think what they might do with them if we go with a different one, so: As if Oregon needed another weapon, Kenjon Barner is back to full strength :
Nearly a month [after his injury vs. Washington State ], after Barner took and passed the required post-concussion tests, he is expected to play again for the first time since the injury when No. 1-ranked Oregon meets Washington in a 12:30 p.m. game, Saturday in Autzen Stadium ...Not that the Huskies -- blitzed 41-0 by Stanford in Seattle just last week -- had much hope of escaping Autzen with a victory in the first place, but having a healthy Barner at Chip Kelly 's disposal clearly won't help matters. All Barner has done this season in his limited time behind LaMichael James is rush for 147 yards on just 14 carries against New Mexico , return a punt for a touchdown against Tennessee , average better than 108 all-purpose yards in his six games and 11.4 yards per touch.
But none of that honestly matters much for Washington, who was always going to be Duck roadkill. The bigger story of Barner's return -- and his shaking off the rust he may claim not to have, but likely does, given that he admits to being "nervous" about playing again -- is what it means down the road for the Ducks' tests against Arizona and at Cal and Oregon State .
And what it means is that the chances of Oregon being thrown off stride, say, by a James' injury or an off-night for a slot receiver or Kelly not being able to use that one play where he really needs Barner -- and losing some place between here and Glendale -- are worse than ever.
Posted on: November 1, 2010 4:21 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
You would think that a 41-0 loss to Stanford and a 35-7 loss to Oregon State would be enough bad news for one Saturday for Washington and Cal . Unfortunately for both teams, injuries to their starting quarterbacks mean that you'd think wrong.
For the Huskies' Jake Locker , the problem is a cracked rib that had already suffered a hairline fracture before being further exacerbated by the rough treatment from the Cardinal. Though the oft-injured Locker should be able to return before missing too much action -- the early indications seem to be that he could return for the Nov. 18 meeting with UCLA , meaning he'd sit out only one game -- the timing for Washington truly could not be worse, as this week's schedule sends the Huskies to Eugene to take on No. 1 Oregon .
Taking Locker's place will be redshirt freshman Keith Price , who'll be making his first career start at Autzen Stadium and will likely triple his 9 career passing attempts. Best of luck, Keith.
Things could be so much worse for Washington, though, as the knee injury suffered by Cal's Kevin Riley early in the Bears' loss in Corvallis illustrates. When even your head coach isn't really holding out hope for your return ...
Tedford acknowledged that the injury was serious, saying, "Right now, it looks a little bit more serious than just your everyday sprained knee" ...... things are not looking good. An MRI today should confirm the extent of Riley's injury, but if he's torn a ligament, the fifth-year senior's career at Cal will be over.
Replacing Riley will be junior Brock Mansion , who completed 14 of his 24 passes against the Beavers (including a late touchdown) but for only 5.8 yards an attempt. Mansion's a seasoned veteran compared to Price; he has 32 total career attempts.
The good news for the Bears is that Jeff Tedford has a strong track record of developing college quarterbacks, and that Mansion will have at least a week to get his feet underneath him against hapless Washington State . But unless Mansion is a stunningly quick learner (or Riley ends up OK), any hope of the Bears scoring the upset of the season when Oregon visits Nov. 13 has probably gone out the window.
Posted on: October 29, 2010 1:33 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Every week there's plenty of interesting matchups -- no, really -- that don't feature ranked teams and don't make anyone's "must-watch" list other than the team's fans. Here's three of them you should keep an eye on regardless (all times Eastern) :
East Carolina (5-2, 4-0) at UCF (5-2, 3-0) , 3:30 p.m. It's a straight-up, head-to-head battle for first place in Conference USA 's East division, but there's plenty of other reasons to pay attention to what ought to be the C-USA game of the year. With Houston 's Case Keenum out for the season and Southern Miss having already lost to ECU at home, these appear to be the best two teams in the conference; the Pirates have the league's best nonconference win, over Florida State conquerors N.C. State , but UCF boasts C-USA's stingiest defense by a mile. Both teams have brand-name playmakers in elusive ECU quarterback Dominque Davis and explosive UCF defensie end Darius Nall. Thus far this season ECU has specialized in winning barnburners (51-49 over Tulsa , 44-43 over Southenr Miss) and this should be another tight contest on the road in Orlando, but with starting quarterback Rob Calabrese out, expect the Golden Knights to play things as close to the vest as possible.
Cal (4-3, 2-2) at Oregon State (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. His brother may be lost for the season, but any time Jacquizz Rodgers suits up for the Beavers, it's worth paying attention to. Beyond that, despite their nonconference losses at TCU and Boise State , the Beavers can still have a major say in the Pac-10 race with a win here; they'll play host to both USC and Oregon and must still travel to take on Stanford . Cal, meanwhile, has been more up-and-down than a yo-yo taken for a bungee-jump. After destroying Arizona State a week ago (a week after being destroyed at USC), they'll be expected to fold at Corvallis. But if you look past the margin of defeat, there's no particular shame in losing in Los Angeles, or at Arizona or Nevada . Both teams will still feel like their season to-date is a success with a win ... but both might also start to feel like the year might be a lost cause with a loss. The game promises to be a turning point for both.
Michigan (5-2, 1-2) at Penn State (4-3, 1-2), 8 p.m. It's pretty simple: at some point, Rich Rodriguez must start winning Big Ten games that aren't against Indiana to keep his job. (Against all other Big Ten teams, he's lost his last 11 in a row.) There's no time like the present, what with the Nittany Lions giving a sophomore walk-on his first start and their banged-up front seven looking like an excellent matchup for a fully-armed and operational Denard Robinson . On the other sideline, last week's win at Minnesota stopped the bleeding for Joe Paterno and Co., but a second straight home defeat to one of the conference's middle-of-the-pack teams -- particularly one with a Swiss cheese defense like the Wolverines' -- is not going to sit well with the Happy Valley faithful. Both teams will feel like they have reason to win this game, and as with the matchup above, the victor will wind up with plenty of reason to feel good about itself going forward. But the loser is going to have some very, very difficult questions to answer.
Tags: Arizona, Arizona State, Big Ten, Boise State, Cal, Case Keenum, Conference USA, Darius Nall, Denard Robinson, Dominique Davis, East Carolina, Florida State, Indiana, Jacquizz Rodgers, Joe Paterno, Michigan, Minnesota, N.C. State, Nevada, Oregon State, Pac-10, Penn State, Rich Rodriguez, Rob Calabrese, Southern Miss, Stanford, TCU, UCF, USC
Posted on: October 27, 2010 7:44 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2010 9:25 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Yesterday, we ran down the list of potential Big Ten champions and what it'll take for each of them to punch their ticket to the Rose Bowl. Now, let's look at the other half of the Granddaddy. Of course, if the Ducks win out, they're probably headed to the BCS Championship instead of Pasadena, but they'll still be the Pac-10 champions. It's worth mentioning, however, that in the event that Oregon finishes undefeated and goes to the title game (likewise with Michigan State and the Big Ten), the second-place team will, in all likelihood, not be taking its place in the Rose Bowl; this is the first season that the new BCS rules require an unused Rose Bowl berth go to a a BCS-eligible team from a non-AQ conference. Being that Boise State, TCU, and Utah are all in the Top 10, it's pretty safe to assume one will be available to crash the party in Pasadena. That said, the Pac-10's nine-game, round-robin schedule and its lengthy tie-breaking procedure mean we've still got a wide-open conference race unfolding.
Oregon can go to the Rose Bowl (or BCS Championship Game) if...
Stanford can go to the Rose Bowl if...
Arizona can go to the Rose Bowl if...
Oregon State can go to the Rose Bowl if...
USC can go to the Rose Bowl if...
The Pac-10 has some awfully complicated multi-team tiebreaker rules that, with five or six games left in the conference season, render a full accounting of what each team needs for a Rose Bowl berth nearly impossible. Enjoy:
(1) When three or more teams are tied in Conference play, if one has defeated all others, it shall be the Rose Bowl representative. If that is not the case, a comparison of the tied teams' records against the other tied teams shall be made and the team having the best record against the other tied teams shall be the Rose Bowl representative. If two or more teams are still tied after this comparison, the appropriate two-team or multiple-team tie-breaking procedures shall be repeated among those teams still under consideration. (2) If more than two teams are still tied after the process above is completed, each remaining tied team's record against the team occupying the highest position in the final regular season standings shall be compared, with the procedure continuing down through the standings until one team gains an advantage. When arriving at another group of tied teams while comparing records, each team's collective record against the tied teams as a group shall be used. If at any point in the process the multiple-team tie is reduced to two teams, the two-team tie-breaking procedure shall be applied. If more than two teams are still tied after comparing their records all the way through the Conference standings, the team among the tied teams with the highest ranking in the final BCS standings shall be the Rose Bowl representative. If a tie remains, the teams most recently earning Rose Bowl or Bowl Championship Series automatic selection shall be eliminated.
Yeah. So until we see a couple more weeks' worth of results suss themselves out, a potential 3-way or 4-way tie scenario won't be in great focus yet. As a general rule, though, the more winning a team does, the less help they need to claim the league title. But you probably knew that already.
Posted on: October 25, 2010 7:36 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Baylor entered the polls this week for the first time since 1993, and they did it with quite the offensive splash : 47 points, a school-record 683 yards of offense (five more than the 678 the Bears gained Week 5 against Kansas ), more than 400 yards passing for quarterback Robert Griffin and 250 yards rushing for tailback Jay Finley , all against a Kansas State defense that had allowed 350 yards or fewer in four of their first five games against FBS competition.
So now seems like a good time to remind college football fans -- and potentially the poll voters that have leapfrogged multiple teams over them in the past several weeks -- that back on Sept. 18, TCU made that same Bears offense look like it needed the phrase "Bad News" appended to it . 263 total yards. More kick return yards (166) than passing yards (164). 2-of-12 third down conversions. And just 10 points in a 35-point demolition. "It's just embarrassing," Griffin said.
Griffin can take heart, though; the Horned Frogs have embarrassed a lot of people since then, most recently an Air Force team that entered their date with TCU leading the nation in rushing (including a 351-yard outing at Oklahoma ) and held them to barely more than half their average.
Even with the Falcons putting up a first-quarter touchdown -- the first given up by TCU in 12 quarters -- the seven points allowed (along wih the zero against Colorado State , the zero against Wyoming , the three against BYU , etc.) was good enough to keep TCU easily atop the national rankings in scoring defense at an even 9.0 points allowed per-game. That mark would match the 9.0 allowed by USC 's 2008 defense as the best since Michigan allowed just 8.9 in 1997.
Even more tantalizing for Gary Patterson 's team is that they still has dates against two horrific offenses in UNLV and New Mexico, currently 114th and 116th in total offense, respectively. Shutouts in both those games combined with strong performances against San Diego State and Utah -- the latter coming on the road in TCU's biggest challenge on the season -- could even propel TCU into the 8.7-8.8 range, the lowest total since Auburn allowed just 7.2 points-per-game back in 1988.
Critics will argue that the Mountain West has served up a whole series of terrible offenses for TCU to feast on, and they won't be entirely wrong. But as that performance against Baylor (and Oregon State , and Air Force) illustrates, the Frogs have brought the goods against the legitimately good offenses on the schedule as well. Numbers this strong don't happen by accident. And if at the end of the season the Frogs find themselves locked in a debate with a one-loss BCS-conference champion for a single berth in the national title game, they'll be the sort of numbers that shouldn't be ignored.
Posted on: October 24, 2010 2:44 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
All the real fireworks in the current Pac-10 and future Pac-12 came midweek with the announcement of the conference's divisional split midweek. Two teams -- USC and Oregon State -- enjoyed a bye week, and none of the four conference games were closer than 16 points at halftime. But there were still some important lessons to learn, starting with ...
1. Cal is the most Jekyll-and-Hyde team in the country. The last time we checked in with the Bears, they were getting annihilated by USC in the L.A. Coliseum, giving up six first-half touchdowns and trailing 42-0 at the break. That was a week after they'd throttled UCLA and the Bruins's pistol attack 35-7 . That result came two dates on the schedule after they'd been shredded by Nevada 's pistol attack 52-31 .
So even though Arizona State had been an excellent road team entering their visit to Berkeley, losing to Wisconsin by a point and downing Washington in Seattle, you could see this coming: 40 straight Cal points after a game-opening Sun Devil field goal, zero offensive touchdowns allowed, a 137-yard advantage in total offense, and a 50-17 rout to move the Bears to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-10. Beleaguered quarterback Kevin Riley -- whose ups and downs mirror the team's closely enough that he ought to be named the team mascot -- went 19-of-29 for 240 yards and no interceptions.
Cal has played one close game, their 10-9 loss at Arizona . The average margin of victory in the other six, for either Cal or their opponent? 32 points.
2. No one's touching Oregon at Autzen Stadium. What this observer took away first and foremost from the Ducks' 60-13 evisceration of UCLA on Thursday night was just how comfortable Chip Kelly 's team appeared. Even playing at the fastest tempo seen in college football today (and maybe ever?), the Oregon offense never seemed confused, never seemed out-of-control, never even seemed to break a sweat. They churned up and down the field with the ease of a swimmer doing laps at the Y. The Bruins never stood a chance.
So does anyone remaining on Oregon's schedule? Most certainly, but only the teams that get the advantage of hosting the Ducks, where the travel and unfamiliar stadium and hostile crowd can at least start to bump the Ducks out of the lethal comfort zone we saw Thursday. Remember: Oregon's only played one team that is not Washington State on the road thus far, Arizona State, and that team held the Ducks to 405 yards and outgained them by nearly 200.
3. If anything happens to that Cam Newton guy, LaMichael James will make for a highly worthy Heisman Trophy winner. James's stats against UCLA don't jump off the page by Heisman standards -- 20 carries, 123 yards, 2 touchdowns -- but those watching the game saw James show off his usual breathtaking combination of speed, power, agility, and mad receiving skills. No tailback in the country is playing better.
4. Nick Foles doesn't have to rush back. The Arizona starting quarterback missed the Wildcats' 44-14 beatdown of Washington with a dislocated kneecap and his return date is still TBA. But the performance of Matt Scott -- the same returning starter who Foles usurped for the job in 2009 -- suggests that there's no need for Foles to rush his timetable. Scott hit 18 of his 22 passes for 233 yards, collecting two touchdowns and going without an interception. He even showed off the legs that made him a starter in the first place, running for 64 yards on 8 carries.
Given that the schedule offers Arizona a date at reeling UCLA this week, if Foles can just get healthy by the Nov. 6 trip to Stanford , that ought to be good enough.
5. Washington State is making progress, however incremental. No, the Cougars' 38-28 loss to Stanford wasn't as close as the final score indicated; Wazzu trailed 38-14 in the final quarter and scored two late touchdowns to make things a bit more cosmetic. But facts are facts: the 10-point final margin is the closest Paul Wulff has come to a Pac-10 opponent in his three seasons, and that he managed it on the road against the No. 12 team in the country is all the more encouraging.
Posted on: October 17, 2010 10:57 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2010 11:31 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Certainly, one of the teams that got the best news tonight is Oregon, ranked second in the initial BCS rankings. While there's only so much that can be read into these rankings with six games of play remaining, of course, the fact remains that as of right now Oregon is projected to go to Glendale to play for the BCS Championship.
So, those six games. There's no such thing as an automatic win in college football these days, but the Ducks should be heavily favored in the majority of these contests.
October 21, vs. UCLA: UCLA is of the most schizophrenic teams in the country, blowing out Houston and Texas but getting crushed by Stanford and a truly mediocre California. Still, even with the Bruins playing at their best, it's hard to imagine they can put up enough points to keep pace with the Oregon offense.
October 30, at USC: If there's any team left on Oregon's schedule that has the sheer talent to run with the Ducks for 60 minutes, it's likely USC. Lane Kiffin's team, led by emerging star Matt Barkley, is young and lacking in depth, but still explosively athletic. If Oregon's really a championship team, it'll handle the Trojans.
November 6 vs. Washington: Anyone think Jake Locker can lead the Huskies to eight touchdowns against Oregon's defense? Because the Ducks are probably putting up at least a 50-spot on the Washington defense.
November 13 at California: It's a road game, which means the Ducks have no business looking past the Bears. They probably won't, and on paper, they'll probably win by about five or six touchdowns here. But you never know -- there's no such thing as a safe road game anymore. We'll see if the game on paper resembles the game on the field.
November 26 vs. Arizona: Here's another potential roadblock for the Ducks; Arizona quarterback (and the Pac-10's leading passer up until his knee injury) Nick Foles should be healthy by the time this game rolls around, and Arizona is one of the few teams that has an offense that might keep pace with the Ducks. Might.
December 4, at Oregon State: Oregon State QB Ryan Katz is developing as a passer game by game, but the Beavers surely miss wideout James Rodgers, lost for the year with an awful knee injury. But that Oregon State defense doesn't have the horses or the discipline to keep Oregon down, so even though this is a rivalry game and anything can happen -- especially with a BCS championship at stake -- this is a probable win.
So yes, Oregon's road to an unbeaten record is relatively safe. Now, there's another question of whether Oregon can stave off Oklahoma and Auburn if they both go unbeaten, too. But that's a question the BCS will be tasked with answering, isn't it?