Tag:Nick Foles
Posted on: February 17, 2011 11:35 am

Tom Savage lands at Arizona

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

As with fellow quarterbacking transferee Tate Forcier, what was reportedly set to become a whirlwind recruitment tour for departed Rutgers QB Tom Savage has ended nearly before it begun. Per Arizona Rivals affiliate goazcats.com , Savage has pledged to play for Mike Stoops' Wildcats.

The news comes as a particular suprise since Savage had specifically requested the privilege of talking with Miami and other Florida schools, a request Greg Schiano had initially denied on publicly spurious reasons before relenting (but not before some interesting comments from Savage's father). Arizona was only the first stop of what had originally been intended to be a series of them.

But with Forcier landing at Miami, Savage elected to cut his re-recruitment short. A major part of Savage's reasoning is likely the friendly-looking Wildcat depth chart; with both starter Nick Foles and backup Matt Scott seniors in 2011, after sitting out his transfer year this fall Savage could very well be the heavy favorite to become Arizona's full-time 2012 starter. And in the Wildcats' Mike Leach- influenced, pass-first offense, Savage could find himself putting up big numbers.

It's not the move everyone was expecting for Savage. But it might be the move that makes the most sense for him all the same.

Posted on: December 30, 2010 1:55 am

Bowl Grades: Alamo Bowl


Offense: The Cowboys weren't actually quite as dominant as the scoreboard (or their reputation) would suggest in the first half, punting four times and getting 14 of their 17 points via a 61-yard thunderbolt to Justin Blackmon and a short-field score following a muffed punt. After three quarters, they still hadn't even cracked 260 total yards, and their final total of 313 fell well below their nation-leading 537-yard average.

But with the Poke defense playing the way it was (and the Arizona offense helping OSU out the way it was), the most important thing for the Cowboy attack was simply to take advantage of its opportunities and not make mistakes, and that they did. Both red zone opportunities were converted into touchdowns, Brandon Weeden (who punctuated a pedestrian-looking stat line with several NFL-quality throws) didn't throw an interception, the Poke ballcarriers never fumbled, and Lou Groza Award finalist Dan Bailey went 3-of-3 with makes from 40, 50, and 44 yards. Combine that with the usual smattering of brilliance from Blackmon -- who finished his sophomore season with 100 yards and at least one touchdown receiving in all 12 games he played, not to mention two more highlight-reel scores in this one -- and it was more than enough to cruise past the bumbling Wildcats. GRADE: A-

The book on the Cowboy defense was that it could slow down most running games, but would really struggle against a competent passing game, and between quarterback Nick Foles and All-American receiver Juron Criner that's what Arizona appeared to have.

But that wasn't the way the game played out at all. In the secondary, the much-maligned Poke defensive backs picked off Foles three times, held him to a mediocre 5.6 yards per attempt (that still flatters his performance), and scored as many touchdowns from his passes -- thanks to a Markelle Martin pick-six -- as Arizona did. Criner grabbed nine receptions, but none for longer than 12 yards. Meanwhile, up front, Foles was sacked five times and hurried twice that many times at least. The end result was that a pass defense that appeared to be the most vulnerable part of the Cowboy team was its most vital part in San Antonio.

That's not to say the Cowboys didn't allow their fair share of yards; over a span of six drives in the second and third quarters, Arizona racked up 194 yards and crossed midfield five times. But thanks to the stiffening OSU defense, they scored fewer points on those drives (three) than the Cowboys did (six, thanks to Martin). As defensive performances go, it was just this side of dominating. GRADE: A-

Coaching: The Cowboy staff of head man Mike Gundy, now ex-offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, and defensive coordinator Bill Young have a collective reputation for aggressiveness, and they more than lived up to it Wednesday night. Holgorsen tested the 'Cat defense deep and with various misdirection plays, Young dialed up a number of successful blitzes, and Gundy's willingness to go for a 4th-and-2 near midfield up big in the fourth quarter paid off with an Arizona penalty and, eventually, the icing touchdown. The Oklahoma State staff showed by far the more aggressive coaching philosophy, and were rewarded with a far, far more aggressive performance from their team. GRADE: A-


Give the Wildcats some credit: with 369 yards and all the aforementioned forays into OSU territory, it's not like they didn't at least give themselves opportunities. But don't give them much -- or any, if you like -- since they squandered virtually all of them via a variety of mistakes. There was Foles, ruining Arizona's first threatening drive with a one-hopper to an open receiver on 4th-and-5 and throwing all three of his interceptions across midfield. There was the timidity in the running game, with the three Wildcat backs averaging just 3.5 yards on their 28 carries. There were the drops from the receivers, with even Criner joining in. There were the seven penalties, the five sacks, the four total turnovers. There was embattled kicker Alex Zendejas missing from 47 and 34 yards.

In short, there were far more shots aimed at the Wildcats' own feet than at their opponents in the Alamo Dome. When one final consolation touchdown with under five minutes to play -- on Foles' best pass of the night, a long arcing bomb to Richard Morrison -- was called back for a hold along the offensive line, you couldn't have asked for a better single-play summation of the Wildcat offense's night. That kind of sloppiness was simply never going to fly opposite a unit as explosive as Oklahoma State's. GRADE: D+

Defense: Frankly, given the quality of the opposition they were facing, you can't hang the outcome on the Arizona defense. With Weeden playing as well as he was and Blackmon being Blackmon (to say nothing of the likes of Kendall Hunter), to hold the Cowboys to 313 yards and three offensive touchdowns -- one of those coming on a turnover-aided short field -- is quite the accomplishment. A forced turnover somewhere would have been nice, but these Wildcats (active cornerback Joseph Perkins in particular) have nothing to hang their heads about. GRADE: B+

Coaching: Already down 23-7 with less than 10 minutes to play in the third quarter, Mike Stoops faced a decision: go for it on a 4th-and-5 from the Oklahoma State 30, knowing that his team would need all the points they could get given the potency of the OSU offense and the deficit his team faced, or try a 47-yard field goal with a kicker whose confidence had to have been badly shaken from the botched extra points that cost the Wildcats their rivalry game with Arizona State. That Stoops chose the "safe" route of kicking the highly-unlikely field goal (whcih badly missed, of course) tells you all you need to know about the halfhearted, play-not-to-lose, roll-over-and-get-crushed attitude Arizona approached this game with. For all his sideline bluster, Stoops didn't show the kind of actual fieriness and conviction his team needed. (And hey, that's not even mentioning leaving two timeouts on the board at the end of the first half while Stoops raged about a pass interference call.) GRADE: D

Like so many other bowls this season, the game was firmly in one team's grasp by the end of the first half and entirely out of reach by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Yawn. Again. At least Weeden-to-Blackmon was worth a look. Grade: C-

Posted on: December 23, 2010 3:47 pm

CBS Bowl Bonanza: Alamo Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen as part of the blog's Bowl Bonanza series. For tonight's Poinsettia Bowl preview, click here .

The Basics: Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Arizona (7-5), Dec. 29, 9:15 EST

Why You Should Watch: Because it's the Alamo Bowl, silly, the same game that gave us Texas Tech's stirring comeback against Michigan State last year, that saw Northwestern just miss out on their first bowl win since 19-dickety-two against Missouri in overtime, that unleashed this madness on us at the end of Michigan-Nebraska ... all in the past five years. And this year, we've got maybe the bowl season's best matchup of wide receivers in Justin Blackmon vs. Juron Criner, the carnival-worthy facial calisthenics of Mike Stoops, and one final chance to see Dana Holgorsen's flying circus at Oklahoma State before he takes his act to Morgantown. That ought to be enough.

Keys to Victory for Oklahoma State: More than maybe any school in the country other than Michigan, the Cowboys win by simply outscoring their opposition. With Holgorsen's unit ranked No. 1-with-a-bullet in the FBS total offense (and a robust third in scoring) but the Poke defense coming in 90th (and yielding a combined 98 points in their two losses), the pressure is permanently on the Cowboy attack to put points on the board. Anything less than 30-35 points, and the Cowboys will be cutting it awfully close.

The good news is that with arguably the best running back-wide receiver combo in the country in All-Americans Kendall Hunter and Blackmon (not to mention revelatory quarterback Brandon Weeden and his 32-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio), even the well-coached Wildcats may not be able to stop from Oklahoma State from hitting that mark. The bad news is that with as much time to prepare as Stoops and his staff will have, it seems unlikely the Cowboys will manage a 40- or 50-point explosion, either. That means the Cowboys will have to come up with at least a few stops, and that starts up front with a run defense that actually finished an impressive 27th in the country in yards-per-carry allowed at 3.57. Leading that charge was first team All-Big 12 senior linebacker Orie Lemon, who led the team in tackles and tackles-for-loss, but he was helped by an experienced (three senior starters) and deep defensive line that had four different members record at least 4 tackles-for-loss.

The front seven will have to be at its best to keep the pressure off of a secondary that ranked 115th in the country in defending the pass, but if the Cowboys can force just a handful of third-and-longs,even their defensive backs (particularly senior corner Andrew McGee)   should be able to make enough plays to let Weeden, Hunter, and Blackmon win the game.

Keys to Victory for Arizona: On paper, the Wildcats don't have a whole lot going for them in this game. They come in riding a four-game losing streak that dropped them to 7-5, with the Cowboys at a stout 10-2; they have further to travel and will do so with dramatically less fan support; their last bowl "effort" was the 33-0 debacle against Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl.

But they do have Criner, a 6'4", 210-pound beast who quietly racked up 1,197 yards to finish as the nation's seventh-leading receiver. They also have Nick Foles, who equally quietly led the Pac-10 in passing yardage at 291 yards per-game, completed 67 percent of his passes, and finished in the national top 30 in both yards per-attempt and QB rating. And there's plenty more targets where Criner came from; eight different Wildcats finished with 20 or more receptions. Given the weakness of the Cowboy secondary, a huge night from Foles, Criner, and the rest of the 'Cat passing game could allow Arizona to keep up with an offense even as explosive as the Pokes.

And defying the West Coast stereotype, the Wildcats are also perfectly competent on defense, finishing as one of only 27 teams to allow fewer than 5 yards per-play. The triumvirate of Ricky Elmore, Brooks Reed, and Justin Washington (23.5 combined sacks, 33 tackles-for-loss) give them a dynamic defensive line that should be capable of slowing Hunter's interior running. If they can do that, a well-prepared back seven plays over their heads against Blackmon and Weeden, and Foles goes off, the Wildcats could very well pull off the upset.

The Alamo Bowl is like: the onslaught at the Alamo itself, at least when either offense is on the field; the overmatched and outmanned secondaries are going to come under a hail of football fire from their better-armed opponents, and will hope to simply survive until their compatriots on the offensive side of the ball can come to their rescue. If the quarterbacks and receivers play up to their capabilities, this year's Alamo Bowl will -- like its namesake -- definitely be something to remember.

Posted on: November 8, 2010 3:41 pm

Oregon (and Arizona) with backup QB issues

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The way Oregon has a cut a swath of destruction through the Pac-10 thus far this season as athletic dual-threat quarterback Darron Thomas has operated Chip Kelly 's lethal spread-option offense to perfection, you might think the Ducks were invulnerable. But you don't have to go any further back than 2007 remember another season when an apparently-invulnerable Oregon was cutting a swath of destruction through the Pac-10 as athletic dual-threat quarterback Dennis Dixon was operating Chip Kelly's lethal spread-option offense to perfection, and that season ended with an unfortunate ACL injury to Dixon derailing what could have been a national championship campaign.

Until last Saturday, the Ducks appeared impervious to even that nightmare scenario, as senior backup Nate Costa , with several years of experience in Kelly's system under his belt, appeared to be a 100 percent sound backup plan in the event of Thomas's departure. (Costa deputized against Washington State earlier this year and hit a brisk 13-of-15 while rushing for 84 yards.) But that was before Costa "appeared to suffer a serious injury to his right knee" while trying to salvage a botched field goal hold against Washington this past weekend.

A final evaluation of Costa's status is still forthcoming , but Kelly seemed resigned to not having the senior available for this week's tricky visit to Cal , at the minimum. That leaves Kelly with two less-than-appetizing options if he has to turn to someone other than Thomas: true freshman Bryan Bennett , who earned the No. 3 job in the offseason but is a true freshman and who Kelly wants to redshirt, or redshirt sophomore Daryle Hawkins , who has spent the season working at running back and receiver.

As long as Thomas stays healthy, it won't matter who the backup is. But before Costa's injury, it had become nearly impossible to lay out a blueprint for a Ducks loss; now, an early knock to Thomas that could thrust Bennett or Hawkins into the fray on the road against an athletic, disruptive Bears defense could turn things awfully dicey for the Ducks in a big hurry. Even if Thomas remains intact, Kelly may feel forced to alter his play-calling to prevent him from taking as many hits; against the Bears, on the road, it's conceivable could this lead to the first real offensive hiccups of the season for the Duck offense.

At least the Ducks won't be alone in wondering what might happen if their starter goes down; Arizona will be without rejuvenated backup Matt Scott for their trip to USC as he recovers from a wrist injury. Scott led the Wildcats to a pair of wins in starter Nick Foles 's recent injury absence and might have spelled Foles Saturday against Stanford if healthy. Instead, the 'Cats will go with junior Bryson Beirne (and his five career pass attempts) in the event Foles is forced ot the bench.

Posted on: November 5, 2010 4:25 pm

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 10

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.


Main Course - #19 Oklahoma State vs. #22 Baylor - 12:30pm - FSN

I don't believe it.  After weeks of barren morning slate after barren morning slate, we actually get a matchup of two ranked teams this Saturday morning.  Surely my complaints have finally been heard and answered by the college football gods.

Granted, a game between Baylor and Oklahoma State doesn't usually carry such cache, but this should turn out to be a very fun way to start your Saturday, and chock full of calories otherwise known as points.  Just do the math.

Both teams have high-powered offenses ranked in the top ten nationally, and both teams have defenses ranked in the lower third of the country.  Which means it's going to look like a tennis match watching Robert Griffin and Brandon Weeden lead their teams back-and-forth down the field.  If the prospect of possibly seeing 100 points scored doesn't do it for you, then I just don't know what I can do for you.

Side Orders:
There's quite a bit of mediocre Big Ten fare on Saturday morning as the conference's power teams beat up on the nerds and goth kids, but one Big Ten game that may deserve your attention is Michigan and Illinois.   The Illini are one of those teams that is a lot better than you think they are, as they're 5-3 and all three of those losses have been close contests against teams currently ranked in the top 15.  Though I suppose you might want to tune in to see Florida destroy Vanderbilt, or see how much money Chattanooga offers Cam Newton to stop running over them.


Main Course -#6 Utah vs. #4 TCU - 3:30pm - CBS College Sports

For years, many a college football fan has clamored for a playoff to determine the national championship.  We're not exactly close to getting one, but if ever there was a game that may as well be considered a playoff game, this is it.  Oh, and it also features two teams who happen to be ranked in the top 5 in the BCS right now.

Those games don't come along very often in the regular season.

Whichever team wins this game basically assures itself a BCS bid, and strengthens its case to play for the title once the year is over.  Plus, considering that Utah is bound for the Pac-12 and TCU may be heading east, this may be the last time we get to see these "mid-majors" square off during the regular season.

So take the time on Saturday to figure out where CBS College Sports is on your cable system and enjoy this one.

Side Orders: Now you all have CBS, so if you're not into that whole Mountain West thing, you could always turn to the mothership and watch Alabama take on LSU.   The winner remains alive for the SEC title, and the loser is done.  Oh, and you can watch the game while chatting with yours truly over on our Facebook page.   Football and Tom Fornelli making smart-assed remarks to your honest questions?  What gets better than that?  Certainly not Oregon disemboweling a Jake Locker-less Washington team, or Penn State and Northwestern duking it out for fourth place in the Big Ten.


Main Course - #10 Stanford vs. #13 Arizona - 8pm - ABC

Stanford's chances to win the Pac-10 are somewhat slim at this point considering its already a game behind Oregon, and that its sole conference loss is to Oregon, but hopes are not dead yet.  However, if they lose to Arizona on Saturday night they are.  The same can be said for the Wildcats, who trail Oregon by a game as well but still get to travel to Eugene at the end of the month. 

If Arizona loses this one, it's in the same boat as Stanford, and we may as well crown the Ducks champions on Sunday morning.

The good news for Arizona is that it won't need to rely on its backup quarterback as Nick Foles is expected to return, which means we get a matchup of two of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-10 as Foles squares off with Andrew "Jim Harbaugh's Other Wife" Luck.

Side Orders: There are some other nice choices on Saturday night if you prefer to try something else.  South Carolina looks to keep its lead in the SEC East against the cannon of Ryan Mallett and Arkansas.   Missouri will also look to keep its BCS hopes alive when it travels to Texas Tech, and I suppose you could tune in to see if Texas can lose yet again against Kansas State.

Late Night Snack

Not much to dine on late this week, though if you're desperate for more football at the end of the night, you can tune in to see if Lane Kiffin can distract Matt Barkley a few more times against Arizona State.   If nothing else, you might get some awesome Ace of Base action, and who doesn't want more Ace of Base in their beautiful life?
Posted on: October 24, 2010 2:44 am

What I Learned from the Pac-10 (Oct. 23)

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 22, 2010 5:49 pm

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 8

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom.


Main Course - Northwestern vs. #8 Michigan State - Noon - ESPN

Michigan State leads the way for breakfast for the second straight week, which is what happens when you're the only undefeated team left in the Big Ten.  Be forewarned, though, just because this matchup doesn't seem all that appealing, it...ok, it isn't really.  It's just that the morning slate is light again because that's just the way things work in this television dominated world.

Still, the Spartans shouldn't take Northwestern all that lightly.  First of all, no road game is easy, even if it's being played in a stadium with 35 people in it.  Yes, Northwestern inexplicably dropped a game to Purdue last week, but that's Northwestern's style.  It has a tendency to play to its opponents.  So there's a chance that the Wildcats could hand MSU it's first "Sparty, no!" of the season.

Side Orders: Ohio State hosts Purdue, and this game may be interesting for a few reasons.  First of all, it's our first chance to see how the Buckeyes will respond following a loss, and they'll also be looking for revenge for last season's loss in West Lafayette.  Speaking of revenge, I'm sure Notre Dame wouldn't mind beating Navy and starting a new trend there as well.  Or you can just watch Texas, West Virginia and Virginia Tech romp over some conference foes.


Main Course - #5 Auburn vs. #6 LSU - 3:30pm - CBS

Two undefeated Tigers roll into Jordan-Hare on Saturday, and only one will emerge.  Who is it going to be?  Well, there are going to be two different games being played in this one.  There's the game between each team's strength -- Auburn's offense and LSU's defense -- and their weakness -- Auburn's defense and LSU's offense.

Odds are that whichever team's weakness best resembles a strength is going to emerge victorious, and have a much easier path to the SEC title and possibly a BCS game.  If you're wondering which way I'm leaning, well, I'll just say that one team has Cam Newton at quarterback and the other has some indecipherable combination of Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee.

Also, I'll be doing a live-chat during this game over at our Facebook page, so stop on by and make fun of Les Miles for four hours with me, won't you?

Side Orders: The afternoon is packed with some big games this week.  If for some reason two undefeated teams battling it out isn't good enough for you, you can always go with Iowa and Wisconsin or the also undefeated Oklahoma State taking on previously undefeated Nebraska.


Main Course - #18 Missouri vs. #3 Oklahoma - 8pm - ABC

Personally, I've been waiting to dig in to this one for a while.  I've seen Missouri play a few times this season, and as I've said here before, I'm just not sure what to  make of them.  The Tigers are a good team, but are they really 11th in the BCS good?  Is that what a couple of victories over some 3-3 BCS teams and nobody else gets you these days?

Whatever the case, we'll find out on Saturday night.  If the Tigers can knock off the team that sits atop the current BCS standings, then I guess we have to take them seriously. 

Though, I feel I should point this out as well, just so Missouri fans can hate me a little less, I think Oklahoma is a bit overrated as well.  Still, I think the Sooners will prove to be better on Saturday night.

Side Orders: Bit of an light night on the menu this week.  There really aren't any other marquee matchups being played on Saturday night.  Kentucky and Georgia could be interesting seeing as how both teams are still alive in the SEC East, but other than that the only game that even catches my eye is TCU and Air Force.   Though, if you hate yourself, you could always tune in to Texas A&M and Kansas.

Late Night Snack

The Washington Huskies have found a home as a late-night snack here.  I've featured them here twice in the last few weeks, and they're undefeated in those games.  Can they run the streak to three on the road against an Arizona team that is without Nick Foles?
Posted on: October 18, 2010 10:40 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2010 4:37 am

Midseason Report: Pac-10

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The Midseason Report separates the contenders from the pretenders in each conference race, and in the Pac-10, that means cleanly separating its top half from its bottom half ... and wondering if anyone can catch Oregon. Here's what's happened so far and what might happen down the stretch.

1. Oregon (6-0, 3-0) - Jeremiwho Masoli? The Ducks missed the memo that the offseason dismissal of their starting quarterback spelled the end of any national title hopes, blazing to six straight wins by an average margin of 38 points. That’s been good enough to make them the consensus No. 1 team in the polls entering the second half of the season, and for Chip Kelly to confirm (again) that no one has a better offensive mind or more talent for coaching dual-threat quarterbacks. First-year starter Darron Thomas has racked up more than 1,400 total yards in leading the Ducks to the current No. 1 ranking in total offense. But even Thomas can go overlooked next to tailback and Heisman candidate LaMichael James , the nation’s No. 1 rusher at 170 yards per-game. The Duck onslaught has overwhelmed every team unlucky enough to face it so far, including previously undefeated Stanford , who gave up 49 points in the final three quarters and lost by three full scores at Autzen. Don’t pencil the Ducks in for a national title bout just yet, though; they were outgained by 226 yards in their only serious road test to date, at Arizona State , and still have to visit three dangerous teams in USC , Cal , and Oregon State . Where the Pac-10 title is concerned, however, it’ll be a shocker if it winds up anywhere but Eugene.

2. Stanford (5-1, 2-1) - Not many coaches can claim to have done a better job over the past few seasons than Kelly, but Jim Harbaugh might be one of them. His stunning reclamation project in Palo Alto has only picked up speed in 2010 as behind potential No. 1 draft pick Andrew Luck (1,538 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 65.7 completion percentage), the Cardinal haven’t missed a beat without departed Heisman runner-up Toby Gerhart. UCLA was embarrassed 35-0, Notre Dame bludgeoned 37-14. and USC out-shot 37-35. The 73rd-ranked rush defense could stand to find more consistency, but with Arizona and Oregon State both coming to Stanford Stadium, the Cardinal could nonetheless be favored in their final six games. 10 or even 11 wins are within reach ... though with Oregon holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, it'll take some major help to reach Pasadena.

3. Arizona (5-1, 2-1)
- The Pac-10 has the Wildcats to thank for the conference’s most impressive non-league win to-date, the wire-to-wire 34-27 win over otherwise-undefeated No. 13 Iowa . But Arizona hasn’t been nearly as impressive in conference play, escaping Cal 10-9 on a last-minute touchdown, losing at home to Oregon State 29-27, and sleepwalking past hapless Washington State 24-7. Quarterback Nick Foles has been outstanding, completing better than 75 percent of his passes and averaging 267 yards a game. But now Foles is due to miss three weeks with a knee injury, and the ‘Cats haven’t been able to get key senior running back Nic Grigsby (340 yards this season) on track. With road trips to Stanford and Oregon still to come, Mike Stoops will have to recapture the magic of the Iowa game in a hurry to keep the Wildcats a factor in the Pac-10 race.

4. Oregon State (3-3, 2-1) - Give the Beavers this: no one in the country has played a more difficult schedule. There’s no shame in losing competitive games on the road at top-5 outfits like TCU and Boise State, and not a whole lot in being a two-point conversion away from a thrilling win at Washington . But there’s not that much respect in being only .500, either, even with a big road win at Arizona. And with James Rodgers out for the season, it’s worth asking if the Beavers have enough offensive firepower to hang with anyone in their brutal USC-Stanford-Oregon closing stretch. Still, Mike Riley 's teams usually improve as the season progresses, and quarterback Ryan Katz has shown flashes of brilliance (most notably in the 390 yard upset in Tucson). The Beavers will still have their say in how the Pac-10 ultimately plays out. They always do.

5. USC (5-2, 2-2) - Maybe we should include Washington in this space. After all, the Huskies both beat the Trojans at the Coliseum and stand a half-game ahead of USC in the Pac-10 standings. But it’s hard to take a team that’s lost to a flatly terrible BYU squad and Arizona State (at home!) all that seriously. The Trojans, on the other hand, are two field goals -- one Washington’s, one Stanford’s, both on the final play of the game -- away from being undefeated. And the way Matt Barkley is throwing the ball these days (742 yards, 8 touchdowns, no interceptions the last two weeks) and freshman Robert Woods is catching it (19 receptions, 340 yards, 5 touchdowns those same two weeks), it’s safe to call Lane Kiffin ’s team the one in the Pac-10 that no one would want to play. Just ask Cal. Then again: how dangerous can the Trojans really be if Monte Kiffin ’s 90th-ranked defense doesn’t stop allowing the occasional 500-yard game? USC could upset Oregon in L.A. and enter the final week of the season in contention for a championship, or they could be mathematically eliminated in another two weeks. Anything is possible here.

Prediction: Sorry, Ducks fans: the guess here is that Oregon won't become the first Pac-10 team other than USC to advance to the BCS championship game. Even the best offenses can have off-games on the road, and that defense -- which was gouged for 600 yards in Tempe and another 518 against Stanford -- isn't going to be able to take up the slack. Whether at Los Angeles, Berkeley, or Corvallis, Oregon is due to trip up somewhere.

But they won't trip up twice, which means that they'll still be able to settle for a second straight Pac-10 championship and Rose Bowl berth. Stanford will crack double-digit wins, but it won't be enough, and perhaps maybe not even enough to push the race into the season's final week.

Everyone else? Three conference losses at the minimum, though USC will end the season with a ton of momentum and the consensus honor of being the league's third-best team.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com