Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Post That Takes Your Money: Week 12

Due to my post-Stanford stupor, I didn't get around to finishing the Pac-12 Journey this week. I completed a few but I didn't get around to Oregon State-Arizona State or Cal-Colorado so rather than post an incomplete bunch, I am posting none at all. As for my picks, I was 4-1 last week but had a couple bad beats against the spread and went 2-3 in the picks that really matter. However, after nailing UCLA -3 last night I'm feeling good heading into a big Saturday slate in the Pac-12

Arizona (-11) over Washington State

Too much Ka'Deem Carey and too much team speed from Arizona for Washington State to handle and seriously challenge in this game. The Wildcats have an athletic, ball hawking defense that will cause problems for Connor Halliday adn the Cougars' offense. Look for turnovers to loom very large once again for Wazzou.

The Pick: Arizona 38, Washington State 24

Oregon (-28) over Utah

Oregon is back at home following an embarrassing loss and looks ready and refocused after getting an extra two days off to prepare for this game. Utah on the other hand looks emotionally spent after a one point loss to Arizona State and is banged up again as QB Travis Wilson did not make the trip to Eugene due to a concussion. Former walk-on sophomore Adam Schulz will get his first career start and he has been less than inspiring completing 19/40 passes against Arizona and USC. So if your keeping track at home, you have a team that is mostly terrible outside its own state lines playing a struggling walk on at QB against a top five team in the loudest stadium in the conference and that top five team is angry and looking to make a statement to get back on track. Ducks roll, big.

The Pick: Oregon 52, Utah 17

Colorado (-1) over California

This game is sad, just so sad. Give me the Buffs and lets move on.

The Pick: Colorado 26, California 22

USC (+3.5) outright over Stanford

My upset special and no it's not just because I'm an Oregon fan and Stanford has to lose in order for Oregon to win the Pac-12, how dare you try to assail my character. I actually have legitimate reasons for taking the Trojans. Stanford can't possibly work themselves up as high emotionally as they did against Oregon and they are bound for some sort of let down after playing essentially a perfect game against the Ducks. USC has a great defensive front that can handle Stanford's power run game. The Trojans have surrendered more yards per carry than the Ducks this season but most of what they have allowed has come against spread offenses. Against conventional power running teams, the Trojans have been pretty much lights out.

I think USC plays out of its mind on defense in front of the first and probably only sellout of the season at the Coliseum and leads the way to a season defining victory.

The Pick: USC 23, Stanford 20

Arizona State (-14.5) over Oregon State

I'm sure it was nice for Oregon State to get last week off and take a break from how much they had been struggling but its not going to matter in Tempe. The Beavers offense clearly cannot succeed against defenses that can rush the passer without blitzing. That is Arizona State's primary M.O. as a defense as Will Sutton and Carl Bradford help forma  fierce front four and players like Alden Darby and Osahon Irabor form a lock down secondary. When the Sun Devils are on offense, I think Marion Grice will put up huge numbers. The Beavers have been okay on defense in the past month or so but were really exposed on the ground against USC two weeks ago.

The Pick: Arizona State 41, Oregon State 17

Last Week Against the Spread:  2-3

Last Week Straight Up: 4-1

This Season Against the Spread: 41-37 (includes Friday)

This Season Straight up: 62-16

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Pac-12 Journey Game 77: The Sneaky Awesome Game

Who is playing?

The Washington Huskies and the UCLA Bruins.

Where is the game being played?

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

What time does the game start and where can I find it on my television?

6:00 PM (PT) on ESPN2

What is the point spread in this game?

UCLA is favored by three points (-3). The line opened at -3. 

What should I watch for when Washington has the ball?

Washington's commitment to its identity will be key tonight. The Huskies are built from their running back out with Bishop Sankey being one of the best runners in college football. UCLA has been very strong on defense this year but teams have had success running on them. In particular, the Bruins have looked less than stellar defending the run against spread offenses as Oregon ripped them for 325 yards and five touchdowns on the ground while Arizona had success to the tune of five yards per carry last week.

UCLA is dangerous when teams are stuck in obvious passing situations and the Bruins can unleash their athletic group of pass rushers. The Huskies have really struggled on the offensive line this season and will have a very tough time accounting for UCLA's stud outside linebacker Anthony Barr. Washington could win this game without a great rushing performance as Keith Price is finally healthy and throwing the ball really well. However, it's probably for the best if the Huskies don't need to find out if Price is capable of converting on third and long.

What should I watch for when UCLA has the ball?

For as much as UCLA has struggled against spread running teams, Washington has been worse allowing 5.3 yards per carry and three touchdowns against Oregon and 314 yards and four touchdowns against Arizona State. Prior to last week it seemed as though UCLA was ill equipped to exploit the Huskies despite running a spread offense with a running identity. The Bruins have gone through major upheaval on the offensive line due to injuries and lost their very productive tailback Jordan James to an ankle injury. Recently though, UCLA's luck has come around as left tackle Simon Goines is healthy and back in the lineup and true freshmen Alex Redmond and Scott Quessenberry have steadily improved with each game since looking lost against Stanford.

The Bruins appear to have also found a replacement for the ailing James, one that came from a most unlikely source. The Bruins tried out true freshman linebacker Myles Jack at running back and he went of for one of the highlights of the year as he broke four tackles en route to a 66 yard touchdown run against Arizona. Jack is still a starter on defense and will not have his role minimized in UCLA's effort to stop Bishop Sankey but, he will remain a part of the offense going forward. What will Jack's role be tonight and can he make a similar impact as he did last week? It's not so much that Jack ran for 120 yards on only six carries (although that was awesome) but his biggest impact was in the energy he brought. UCLA looked stagnant before Jack got in the game on offense and the plays he made with the ball really lit up the entire UCLA offense and pushed them to another level. Was the Myles Jack Show a one-night only event or is it a lasting craze? The answer may very well determine this game.

Which team should I bet on and which team will win?

Washington's run game and a healthy Keith Price will present a lot of problems for UCLA's defense but the Bruins are just a better and more talented team and they are playing at home. Lay the points, and roll with the Myles Jack Show.

The Pick: UCLA 35, Washington 31

2013 Pac-2 Power Rankings: Week 11

1. Stanford (Overall: 8-1, Conference: 6-1, Last Week: 2)
What else is there to say about the Stanford Cardinal after their huge win over Oregon? The Cardinal have defined their season and won the biggest game of the Pac-12 season. With only two conference games remaining on its schedule, Stanford controls its own destiny to win the Pac-12 North and reach the Rose Bowl for a second consecutive year. Now about that Utah game...

2. Oregon (8-1, 5-1, LW: 1)
The Ducks were finally slowed down last Thursday as Stanford, for a second year in a row, showed how to beat the Ducks. The red flags may have been there all along as teams have been able to run the ball on the Ducks defense for most of the season and Oregon's offensive line, particularly the entire of its line had lost physical battles even against lesser opponents. Oregon may have a "Stanford problem" but that is being way to over simplistic. There are 120 teams in college football that have a Stanford problem and it's not like Oregon hasn't beaten string physical teams before either (Stanford in 2010 and 2011, Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl). This is still a top five team and even the most staunch Oregon hater has to kid himself to believe that Oregon could lose to any of its remaining opponents.

3. UCLA (7-2, 4-2, LW: 3)

4. Arizona State (7-2, 5-1, LW: 4)
I worry that last week's game against Utah was "that game" the one performance that happens every year with the Sun Devils where they put together a month or more of great performances and then flush it away with one terrible effort against an inferior team. ASU did everything they could to give that game away but, they pulled out a one point win and the Pac-12 South title still remains very much in play.

5. USC (7-3, 4-2, LW: 6)
Once left for dead, the Trojans are back in a big way behind the best baby sitter ever, Ed Orgeron. Orgeron gives the USC players really delicious food and lets them watch movies and exchange, the USC players have played immeasurably harder than they ever did for Lane Kiffin. USC still hasn't lost a conference game since Kiffin and although they do need ASU to lose twice, the Pac-12 South division title isn't a pipe dream at this point.

6. Washington (6-3, 3-3, LW: 5)
I thought Colorado would give Washington some trouble in hang around with the Huskies last week but Washington snuffed that out in a hurry. The Huskies, especially QB Keith Price, looked like they were having fun out there for the first time since the beginning of October and the defense had its best performance all season.

7. Arizona (6-3, 3-3, LW: 7)
Arizona looked really good in hanging with UCLA and making a bit of a come back to at least get a shot at the win late but they were done in by the same thing that has killed them all year, they just can't throw the ball. God bless B.J. Denker, he has a lot of heart and you can't question his work ethic. While he does bring a lot to the table to his legs, he takes most of it away with his arm. The Wildcats might get some help soon as star WR Austin Hill began practicing this week for the first time all season after suffering a torn ACL back in March but, he probably won't be enough to change Arizona's fortunes through the air.

8. Oregon State (6-3, 4-2, LW: 8)
9. Washington State (4-5, 2-4, LW: 9)
You might as well lump the Beavers and Cougars together. After playing the easy portions of their schedules in the first half of the season, the Beavers were 6-1 and the Cougars were 4-5. Now OSU and WSU are on a combined five game losing streak. Both of these teams were looking great at one point as Washington State looked like a safe bet to qualify for a bowl game for the first time in over a decade and the Beavers looked like a strong dark horse in the Pac-12 North. Now that these two teams have come unraveled, it's hard to find another win on either teams' remaining schedule.

10. Utah (4-5, 1-5, LW: 10)
Is there any team that has suffered more heart crushing home losses in college football than the Utes? Utah controlled the game from start to finish against Arizona State and at this point are two plays away from having three home wins over ranked opponents. You could make a convincing argument that Utah is the best team with a losing record in college long as your making the case with Utah playing at home. The Utes have been truly awful when traveling outside state lines and they probably have another thorough road shellacking coming their way on Saturday as they face Oregon at Autzen Stadium without starting QB Travis Wilson.

11. Colorado (3-6, 0-6, LW: 11)
Colorado's run of improving and being feisty came to an abrupt end against the Huskies, further reinforcing just how little Pac-12 caliber talent is currently available on Colorado's roster.

12. California (1-9, 0-7, LW: 12)
California's solid effort to stay competitive with Arizona was nothing more than a tease. The Bears were wiped off the field by the Trojans and now get their one shot at a conference win as they head to Boulder for the ultimate Pac-12 pillow fight with the Buffs.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Post That Takes Your Money: Week 11

This really has become a post that takes your money in recent weeks as I have gone ice cold following a nice start to the year. I apologize for once again neglecting the Pac-12 journey articles this Saturday as the Oregon-Stanford game and the return of college basketball sapped most of my emotion and work ethic. I promise I'll make up for it with full recaps and I will get back on track with the Pac-12 Journey next week. I'm off to a bad start with my picks this week after taking Oregon -10 over Stanford and even said they would cover if the lien was -17. Oops. Here's to getting back on track today.

USC (-17) over California

USC is confident, flying high, and playing its best football of the season. Marqise Lee is back healthy and making explosive plays and USC's offensive line has reached a point of actually looking competent. USC's offensive line should eat up Cal's banged up front and force a lot of mistakes from Jared Goff while Cal's depleted, paper thin secondary has no realistic way of stopping Lee and Nelson Agholor.

The Pick: USC 38, California 10

Arizona State (-7) over Utah

This could be one of those games. ASU has looked like a borderline top 10 team for the past three weeks and is beginning to build the aura of a team that could challenge for a spot in the Rose Bowl. The Sun Devils have been in this type of position before and it usually ends with a face plant on the road against a far less talented team. Well enter Utah, the dreadful road team that plays exceptionally well at home and already sprung a monumental upset over Stanford earlier this year.

I regret doing this already because I can just see ASU committing four turnovers and 100 yards in penalties today and me feeling like an idiot for not seeing this coming. That being said, Utah's patchwork secondary is a huge problem against Taylor Kelly and friends and Utah just can;t run the ball consistently well on offense so they can't exploit ASU's greatest weakness barring an out of body experience from their running backs and offensive line. I can already feel this going sideways on me, but I feel confident enough in the Sun Devils to ride them for one more week.

The Pick: Arizona State 31, Utah 21

Colorado (+28) over Washington

Washington has recovered from its three game losing streak that exposed them but this pick is more about the Buffs than the Huskies. Colorado has shown really impressive fight in recent weeks and won't let Washington have anything easy. I like the match up of Paul Richardson against the Washington secondary and young QB Sefo Liufau has gotten better with each passing week. Keith Price will play without any protection on his injured right thumb for the first time since Oct.5 but I'm still not convinced that he is 100% healthy. I also know this Washington team is not mentally strong and is prone to looking ahead. The Huskies have a huge game with Oregon State next week that will seperate the middle of the Pac-12 North and could potentially swing Washington's bowl destiny from as high as the Holiday Bowl to as low as the New Mexico Bowl. All things considered, the line is a little high so take the points.

The Pick: Washington 45, Colorado 24

UCLA (+2.5) over Arizona

Arizona State leads the Pac-12 South as the only team in the division with only two conference losses but amazingly, both of these teams control their own destiny to win the South as well. While all the attention going into the week was focused on Oregon-Stanford, this game tonight could have an equally great impact on the Pac-12 title race. UCLA hasn't looked the same on offense since Stanford beat them up and Oregon piled on a week later but the Bruins should be rested and refocused after slogging through a win over Colorado last week. Arizona has recovered nicely from an 0-2 start in conference to win three in a row but the Wildcats have hardly looked like world beaters. Arizona is probably due for a correction, especially after putting out such a mediocre performance against Cal last week.

Teams can run on UCLA effectively as we have seen in recent weeks and that is something Arizona wants to here. However, Arizona's inability to play-action off that run game and hit deep passes will hurt them in the end. UCLA is still young and banged up on the offensive line but Arizona does not have the type of physical athletes necessary to exploit that.

The Pick: UCLA 35, Arizona 31

Last Week Against the Spread:  1-3

Last Week Straight Up: 3-1

This Season Against the Spread: 38-35 (includes Thursday)

This Season Straight up: 57-16

Friday, 8 November 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different...College Basketball Returns Tonight!

College basketball has such a soft and under hyped tip-off to the season every year but wouldn't you know it, the regular season starts tonight! The first games have already tipped off out on the East Coast but the first Pac-12 games get under way in less than one hour with 10 teams in action including a pair of marquee games. It's a little harder to cover Pac-12 basketball than it is with football because there are so many more games and it is hard to keep track of it all outside of the team you really care about (for me Oregon) and the central contenders in the conference (Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, and the Ducks). Basketball coverage will be a little loose and spotty for now because football is still going on and that obviously takes precedent.

Hoops coverage will pick up in January but until then I'll have at least a little weekly content to stay in the loop and will try my best to take a break from football to give the big non-conference match ups the attention they deserve. Night one in the Pac-12 is mostly occupied by the dregs of Evergreen State, Coppin State, Drexel, and CS Bakersfield but two teams are venturing out into headline games. The preseason #19 Oregon Ducks are in the first significant national showcase game of the year as they battle Georgetown in the Armed Forces Classic from Camp Humphreys Army Base in South Korea. Colorado, another Pac-12 contender is also eating the big meat of its non-conference schedule early with a "neutral" floor game against #25 Baylor in Dallas, TX. These two games are staggered nicely as well as you can catch the Ducks at 5:00 PM (PT) followed by the Buffs at 7:00. Because of the attention devoted to football and the Pac-12 game of the year being last night, I was unable to prepare previews for these two games but I'll have full wraps tomorrow about all 10 games.

The Pac-12 is deeper and stronger than it has been in years and will make for one of the most exciting hoops seasons on the west coast in some time. Enjoy Ducks-Hoyas and Buffs-Bears and spare a little time from your football gluttony to take in a little hard court ball.

And Now a Few Words From an Oregon Fan Who Hates Everything Right Now

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Allow me to break down the fourth wall and talk in first person for a change. Last night sucked. It sucked to watch a team full of guys I care about wearing my beloved colors get bullied and pushed around on national television. It sucked to invest two and a half months of energy and passion to get to a point where I let my guard down and allowed myself to believe this Oregon team could finally win a national championship only to watch those dreams burn under the weight of a team that belongs in the 1960's. I spent the night trying to escape the moment where I said Oregon would win by 25 points and doing everything I could to block out memories of the 2007 Arizona game, 2011 USC game, and of course last year's Stanford game. I have far too many emotions and feelings going through me to form a truly coherent column about last night's game but I do have a few thoughts and angles that I need to share.

1. I stand by everything I said in my preview of this game that now makes me look like a moron. Ben Gardner's injury should have been crippling and may still be at some point, the Stanford offense had been stale, unimaginative, and unproductive all season, and the Ducks had gotten better since last season's meeting from a personnel standpoint. I had sound reasons for believing Oregon could win and win big and I regret none of the things I said before this game.

2. This is going to sound stupid but bare with me. Oregon is a better team than Stanford. Oregon is better built to beat any random team, the Ducks are built to take on anyone anywhere and beat them decisively. Stanford is specifically built to beat Oregon. Oregon hasn't lost to an unranked opponent since 2009 yet Stanford has suffered such a defeat in consecutive seasons. The Stanford program as it is currently constructed is built ideally for countering Oregon but not necessarily for beating anyone under any circumstances. That doesn't mean Stanford can't show up and beat anyone because they certainly can but their assembly and mindset as far as Oregon goes has made them vulnerable against other teams that normally should not have any chance at beating them (see Washington, Utah).

3. Stanford was playing possum offensively all year and a lot of people including myself fell for it. Stanford's lack of creativity and unwillingness to allow Kevin Hogan to use his legs has been maddening but it's clear now that David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren were saving all the good stuff for last night's game. In addition to Stanford's power with eight and sometimes nine offensive linemen on the field, we also saw effective zone reads, options, counter draws, and creative screen passes among other effective play calls.

To add on to my second point, Stanford had all this stuff ready and waiting in its play book all year but chose to wait it out until the Oregon game. It's funny because this strategy both worked beautifully and failed disastrously. Stanford sprung a great offensive game plan on Oregon and churned out first down after first down with ease and won the biggest game of the year. It also failed because the Utah game happened when Stanford flailed around aimlessly with a vanilla offense for three quarters and lost to an inferior opponent. Was it worth it? Sure, Stanford beat the Ducks and now control their own destiny to win the Pac-12 but if they had not had such a singular focus on beating Oregon, they would have beaten Utah and could be controlling their destiny for a national title.

4. Oregon is still a great team, is not soft and easily pushed around, and has a body of work that outweighs one bad performance. This comes up every time Oregon loses and it is so frustrating to hear but if Oregon were so soft and easy to manhandle then why do they beat everyone else by historic margins? If Stanford exposed the Ducks and gave a blue print to easily beat them then why does Oregon beat every other team they face by five touchdowns? Oregon is still one of the top five or six teams in college football and while Stanford has certainly shown a blueprint for stopping the Ducks, exactly how many teams in college football are properly equipped on both offense and defense to pull it off? The list ends after about three teams with Alabama and Florida State joining Stanford. Oregon can and will beat anyone else by three touchdowns or more.

This is still a great team and they will run the table and compete in a high profile bowl game with an 11-1 record. People laughed and said Oregon's house of cards had fallen after losing to Stanford last year but what happened after that? Oregon pummeled a ranked Oregon State team on the road 48-24 the next week and then beat a top five ranked Kansas State team by 18 points in the Fiesta Bowl despite hardly looking interested in being there. I'm sure voters and pundits will overreact and try to build a case for Oregon falling out of the top 10 but if you would honestly take Missouri, Clemson, Miami, LSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, etc. over Oregon on a neutral field then you are plain and simply a dumb ass and deserve to lose all your money.

5. This suddenly dawned on me late in the 3rd quarter last night, but instead of looking forward to contending for titles for the next however many years, Oregon as it is currently constructed may have missed its window to win a national championship. Stanford always had the right idea on how to stop Oregon but up until last season they never had the right athletes to execute that vision. Nothing has changed in Stanford's scheme and mentality towards Oregon in between 2010 and last night but Stanford's caliber of athletes certainly has. Oregon had a brief shot in 2010 and 2011 while Stanford was recruiting and developing those athletes to run almost uncontested toward a national title shot. They got to the title game after the 2011 season and blew it thanks to a terrible offensive game plan from then head coach Chip Kelly and a few really dumb uncharacteristic mistakes. Then in 2011, Oregon scheduled its way out of a title shot by cancelling a series with Kansas State to take on LSU in Arlington, Texas with three new starters on both lines in a game they never had a shot in.

The question is, can Oregon reverse what Stanford has done, perhaps sacrifice a few match ups in its other games and build a team specifically designed to beat the Cardinal? I don't know exactly how it can be done because if I did I would be working a far more lucrative job than the one I have right now. But just consider this, in 2010 and 2011 Oregon was the only team to beat Stanford in the regular season and therefore became the only road block between Stanford and a national title bid two years in a row. In 2012 and 2013, that has flipped and become the exact opposite. Every team has weaknesses and as Stanford proved, a program can be reshaped and modified to contend with a certain team without sacrificing the overall vision of the program. In the next two years, we will find out exactly what Mark Helfrich is made of, not as a coach but as the molder of a program. Can Helfrich figure out a way to get stronger and more physical, particularly along the lines, without sacrificing Oregon's trademark speed and tempo?

But, even if my intuition is right and Oregon's window closed after 2011, the landscape in college football is changing drastically next year. Under the current system, it is almost impossible to qualify for the national championship with one loss from outside the SEC. Getting back into the top two with one loss is darn near impossible for a Pac-12 team like Oregon or Stanford for that matter in today's climate. But with college football adopting a four team playoff, suddenly running the table is less of a necessity. Remember that Oregon face planted against Stanford last year and still ended up fourth in the final BCS rankings which would have given them a chance at the national title under next year's system. Don't forget that Stanford got blown out by Oregon in 2010 and worked their way back up to fourth at the end of the season and would have had a chance at a title shot under the future system.

6. For the love of God, will some program outside the Pac-12 please hire Derek Mason as a head coach? This is actually something Oregon fans can take comfort in for the future. There is a good chance that Stanford may never be this dominant again defensively. Obviously it depends on whether Mason wants to be a head coach right now or wants to sit and wait for the perfect job but he will get offers this off season and could be gone. Stanford is going to lose the heart beat of its defense this off season when their three best defenders Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, and Gardner all graduate. They will also lose their superb defensive tackle Josh Mauro to graduation and stand to lose any number of Ed Reynolds, Henry Anderson, A.J. Tarpley, and James Vaughters to early entry into the NFL Draft. It's easy to forget that despite Stanford's current run of success being sustained over the last five years, they've only been on a high level defensively for the last two. If they lose Mason and all that talent, Stanford might be in for a massive regression. Stanford has recruited at a high level and has replacements ready to go but they have not yet had a chance to prove themselves to be a "plug and play" program that can lose any number of good players, no matter how good they are, and replace them with ease.

7. Stanford was simply a better football team last night. This isn't a case like last year when Oregon could explain the night away about lack of focus and being blindsided by a team they weren't ready for. The Ducks were ready for this one but got out-manned by a superior football team. You can play the what if game for Oregon about getting just a few bounces to go their way and I'll entertain that for a moment. Yes Oregon scores a touchdown on its first drive if Marcus Mariota could lay the ball out one yard further to Josh Huff and yes getting zero points on three positions inside the Stanford 30 yard line is incredibly rare but you can play that game with Stanford too. What if the Cardinal hadn't settled for five field goal attempts? This game could have been an epic blowout.

In the end, both teams and its fans will look back on this season partly with joy and good memories but a lot of melancholy and doubts about what could have been. Stanford will probably be 12-1 and playing in the Rose Bowl and Oregon will likely be 11-1 and off to either the Sugar Bowl or Orange Bowl. I don't care if you think it's "National Championship or Bust," a one loss season ending in a BCS bowl berth is a successful season by any standard. But both teams will have to wonder regretfully about what could have been.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

The 2013 Pac-12 Journey Game 71: The Game of the Year(s)

What teams are playing?

The Oregon Ducks and the Stanford Cardinal

Where is this game being played?

Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California

What time does the game start and where can I find it on my television?

6:00 PM (PT) on ESPN.

What is the point spread?

Oregon is favored by 10 points (-10). The line opened at -7.

What should I watch for when Oregon has the ball?

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

A lot of hoopla has come from De'Anthony Thomas promising that the Ducks should score at least 40 points on Stanford's immovable defense but far more attention should be paid to his right ankle and the role he will play in this game. Thomas returned from his ankle injury against UCLA following a four game absence but had a mostly down performance with only 31 yards on 10 carries. He then asked out of the game after halftime because his ankle didn't feel right. The Ducks did not miss him at all though as Byron Marshall (averaging 6.76 yards per carry, the most among Pac-12 runners with at least 60 carries) produced his fifth straight game of at least 100 rushing yards and scored multiple touchdowns for the fourth time in the past five games (the stretch of time Thomas missed). Marshall has been better as a feature tailback than Thomas was not to mention the emergence of true freshman Thomas Tyner who has accounted for 6.43 yards per carry for the season.

Duck fans have clamored for Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost to copy the Ducks' 2011 offense that had LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner controlling the offense as feature backs with a younger Thomas as an accessory play maker at both running back and slot receiver. Will Helfrich lean on Marshall with Thomas healthy? Or will he go back to his original game plan with Thomas as a feature back? Will it even matter considering what just happened to Stanford's defense?

Stanford's task of shutting down the high flying Ducks for a second year in a row took what could be a fatal hit last week when senior All-American defensive lineman Ben Gardner tore a pectoral muscle and was pronounced out for the year. 2012 second team All-Pac-12 selection Henry Anderson will make his season debut in an attempt to replace Gardner but there is absolutely no guarantee that Anderson is either a) actually healthy or b) not prone to re-aggravating his injury in the first quarter. Even if Anderson is 100% and a full go for tonight, there is absolutely no depth behind him. Oregon will of course go up tempo like they always do and force Stanford to substitute and that could create irreparable problems for the Stanford defense.

Despite how great Gardner was, the Cardinal still have loads of talent at other levels of its defense. Outside linebacker Trent Murphy might be the best defensive player in the Pac-12 and his partner at the other OLB spot James Vaughters is a star in his own right. Ed Reynolds hasn't had the same production that he had last year but is still the most talented safety in the nation. The Cardinal are violently physical, smart, and athletic and that makes them capable of shutting down anyone. But, these Ducks aren't just anyone.

Oregon has gotten a lot better on offense since last year and yes, that is possible. The Ducks possess the single best player in all of college football in QB Marcus Mariota. The Ducks have become more physical and versatile at the running back position with the emergence of Marshall and Tyner, they have their best tandem of wide receivers since 2001 with Josh Huff and Bralon Addison, and a veteran offensive line that has learned a lot and gotten much better since being eaten up by the Cardinal last year. In terms of units, as in one offense versus one defense, this may be the best match up a college football fan could dream up other than perhaps Oregon or Baylor facing Alabama. It's ironic though, that this game will probably come down to the other offense versus defense match up.

What should I watch for when Stanford has the ball?

All the hype surrounding this game has been paid to deciphering Oregon's offense against Stanford's defense and to a degree that is rightfully so. However, the most important question to be asked about this game has nothing to do with either of those units. The most important question in this particular game is, "Where are Stanford's points going to come from?" This game has been circled since it was announced back in July but Stanford may have lost its shot in this one back in January when then offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton left his post to accept the OC gig with the Indianapolis Colts. New offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren and head coach David Shaw (a former OC in his own right) have left a lot to be desired in picking up Hamilton's slack.

The problem isn't so much that Stanford is boring and conservative as many fans lament but it has more to do with the Cardinal being incredibly predictable. A formation with eight or sometimes nine offensive linemen sounds cool in theory but it doesn't work in practice because there is no threat of a pass at all. The one inherit advantage that offenses have over defenses is the ability to dictate the play. They know what is being run and the defense doesn't and sometimes a defense can be exploited because they are left guessing and play a base defense against a particular offensive play and/or formation that is designed to exploit them. Not only do opposing defenses know that Stanford is going to run the ball but they also know where the run is going.

Stanford has not threatened the edges with the run this season and has been woefully uncreative with its play calling. The Cardinal have a great tailback in Tyler Gaffney and a gifted running quarterback with Kevin Hogan but both are running plays that aren't suited to their abilities. Hogan in particular has been hampered this year without Hamilton. Last year, Hamilton got creative with Hogan by allowing him to use his best asset, his legs, to his advantage. Stanford's bread and butter was still the inside running game but Hamilton mixed it up with outside runs, read options, creative multiple option screens, speed options, and designed roll outs with multiple run/pass options. All of that creativity has been starkly missing this year as Bloomgren and Shaw have inexplicably tried to force Hogan into the box of a conventional QB like his predecessor Andrew Luck. Unfortunately for Hogan, it's a box he is simply not built to succeed in.

Making matters much worse for Hogan is the infirmary report both for his Cardinal and the opposing Ducks. Hogan's second best receiver Devin Cajuste will miss a second straight game with a knee injury leaving him with Ty Montgomery and little else to throw to. The Ducks possess perhaps the most talented secondary in all of college football lead by the nation's best corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Ekpre-Olomu is more than capable of holding Montgomery down so if Ekpre-Olomu plays the way he normally does and puts a blanket on Montgomery, where else will Hogan find completions? You might remember last year that Oregon was really banged up on defense late in the season. All-American pass rusher Dion Jordan was out with a shoulder injury, Arik Armstead and premier linebacker Kiko Alonso both had a huge cast on one hand, true freshman Alex Balducci's redshirt was burned to cover for ailing nose tackles Wade Keli'ikipi and Ricky Heimuli, and steady safety Avery Patterson, the quarterback of the defense, blew out his knee the week before the Stanford game. It's all hands on deck for the Ducks defense this year as no significant defensive players are out and none have been playing with noticeable pain in recent weeks.

Which team should I bet on and which team will win?

To answer the most important question of where will Stanford's points come from? They won't. The Ducks played their best defensive ball of the season last time out against UCLA and should eat up a predictable Stanford offense with an average passer at QB and a depleted receiver core. The Ducks will make good on Thomas' promise of 40 points as well as Mariota makes a bold Heisman statement and the Ducks' receivers and offensive linemen play at a much higher level than last year. Oregon has not lost consecutive games to the same opponent or lost a true road game since 2009. That means that literally not a single player on Oregon's roster knows what it's like to lose twice to the same team or lose a road game. Athletes in Space would feel comfortable laying the points even if the line were a full touchdown higher and thus expects the game of the year to fall into a blowout. The Ducks take this one big, 42-17.

2013 Pac-12 Power Rankings: Post Week 10

1. Oregon (Overall: 8-0, Conference: 5-0, Last Week: 1)
2. Stanford (7-1, 5-1, LW: 2)
Both teams had last week in preparation for one of the most highly anticipated Pac-8/10/12 games ever and arguably the biggest midweek regular season game in college football history. Come next week, the top of these rankings while either be permanently entrenched (at least until next season) or they will be thrown into flux. We'll find out tonight.

3. UCLA (6-2, 3-2, LW: 3)
It wasn't pretty at times and the Bruins let an inferior Colorado team hang around but a win is all that matters for a banged up team that looked tired and reeling following consecutive losses to the Cardinal and Ducks. We'll see if slogging through an inconsistent game with the Buffs was exactly what UCLA needed to recover and get back to form for a huge showdown with Arizona.

4. Arizona State (6-2, 4-1, LW: 5)
The Sun Devils are definitely peaking as a team right now and absolutely obliterated Washington State on the road in a match up that sure looked losable earlier this season. ASU's defensive line is back too after struggling for much of the season. The Sun Devils have been dominant up front for three straight games.

5. Washington (5-3, 2-3, LW: 6)
After finally righting the ship with a win over Cal the Huskies took last week off and finally got a chance to rest and forever bury the toll of that brutal three game stretch against Stanford, Oregon, and Arizona State. The Huskies emerge from their bye with a likely win against Colorado before a separation game in the middle of the Pac-12 North with Oregon State next week.

6. USC (6-3, 3-2, LW: 9)
Once left for dead, the Trojans have risen and won three straight conference games that has flipped the outlook of their season from bottom feeder to potentially winning the Pac-12 South. The Trojans will need a lot of help particularly from Arizona State's opponents but the Trojans' skies are suddenly much sunnier with key players like Marqise Lee on the mend.

7. Arizona (6-2, 3-2, LW: 7)
The Wildcats have been a patchwork team all year, one that has defied what a Rich Rodriguez team traditionally looks like and their tattered sails almost came crashing down on them against California. Arizona might be the best example of a good bad team in college football this year. The Wildcats have built a nice record with wins over mostly bad teams and have done it with a great running back, competent but not dominant defense, and a very limited but mostly mistake free quarterback. The back end of the Wildcats' schedule is one built to expose them however. The 'Cat's face refocused and re-energized UCLA this week and then get a slight reprieve with Washington State followed by grueling match ups with Oregon and at Arizona State. 7-5 would be an accomplishment for an Arizona team whose fans looked at this season as a rebuilding year but seven wins may also be their ceiling.

8. Oregon State (6-3, 4-2, LW: 4)
After rising from the dead to become a fringe contender, the Beavers have fallen back to earth and can't get up. The "most productive passing offense in college football" struggled again and was largely shut down scoring only one offensive touchdown. Sean Mannion was under pressure all night from USC defensive line and Brandin Cooks once again couldn't shake free from coverage. Amazing what can happen after a team feasts on inferior opponents for two months and suddenly gets ripped apart once the difficult stretch of its schedule begins. Surely, no one could have seen this coming.

9. Washington State (4-5, 2-4, LW: 8)
Speaking of free fall, the Cougars know all too well how it feels as the men from Wazzou have lost three in a row and suddenly look like a team that could go from 4-2 to missing a bowl game. The Cougars are down with being slaughtered by the likes of Oregon, Stanford, and Arizona State but the Cougars will still definitely be heavy underdogs against Arizona and Washington on the road. There is hope for the Cougars against Utah at home Nov.23 but that only gets the Cougars to five wins and makes this once promising season a huge disappointment.

10. Utah (4-4, 1-4, LW: 10)
Every time you think about Utah knocking off Stanford it gets more and more perplexing. The Utes got their validation as a legit Pac-12 program with that huge win but so far they have parlayed that into a season highlight instead of a stepping stone to greater things. Utah had a bye last week which was a big deal for them as it gave QB Travis Wilson a chance to rest his injured index finger and resume throwing the ball without any pain. Utah has been a great home team and that certainly gives them a chance against the Sun Devils on Saturday the Utes' offensive line and defensive secondary will have to have collective out of body experiences to make it happen.

11. Colorado (3-5, 0-5, LW: 11)
It is really sad to talk about 22 point losses as being encouraging but that is what the Colorado football program has been reduced to over the course of the best eight years or so. The Buffs fought hard and did not give UCLA anything easy.

12. California (1-8, 0-6, LW: 12)
The Bears cashed in the opening possession of the game for their first lead since Sept.7 (let that set in for a moment) and hung tough against Arizona all game in a five point loss. Jared Goff had his best game at quarterback in over month but the scrappy effort wasn't enough to overtake the Wildcats. Cal's only hope for a conference win this season still appears to be limited to the next week at Colorado.

The Award Tracker:

Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year:
1. QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (LW: 1)

2. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (LW: 2)

3. RB Marion Grice, Sr., Arizona State (LW: NR)

Honorable Mentions:
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State

QB Sean Mannion, Jr., Oregon State

RB Marion Grice, Sr., Arizona State

Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year:
1. LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (LW: 1)

2. LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (LW: 2)

3. DE Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State (LW: 3)

Honorable Mentions:
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford

LB Addison Gillam, Fr., Colorado

CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon

Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year:
1. RB Thomas Tyner, Oregon (LW: 1)
Bye week spent being more talented than Jared Goff.
2. QB Jared Goff, California (LW: 2)

3. RB Michael Adkins, Colorado (LW: 3)

Honorable Mentions:
RB Paul Perkins, UCLA

QB Sefo Liufau, Colorado

RB Khalfani Muhammad, California

Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year:
1. LB Addison Gilliam, Colorado (LW: 1)

2. LB Myles Jack, UCLA (LW: 2)

3. LB Scooby Wright, Arizona (LW: 3)

Honorable Mentions:
DB Daquawn Brown, Washington State

DL Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

LB Torrodney Prevot, Oregon

Pac-12 Coach of the Year:
1. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (LW: 1)

2. Jim Mora, UCLA (LW: 2)

3. Todd Graham, Arizona State (LW: NR)

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Post That Takes Your Money: Week 10

Double digits already? College football is going by too fast and we can't afford to waste these precious last few weeks of the regular season on bad slates of games. Unfortunately, that's what is happening in the Pac-12 with four teams on a bye and four teams getting their games out of the way on weeknights leaving only two Pac-12 games for today. In case you were wondering or possibly deceived into thinking this is somehow a good thing, it is not because one of the games involves California and the other prominently features Colorado. Since the Pac-12 schedule makers clearly decided to take this week off, I will as well by not posting Pac-12 Journey articles for either of these games. Sue me. If you really are a degenerate gambler and you need to wager money on Pac-12 football, here are my picks for today's games.

Arizona (-14.5) over California

I said last week to take Cal's opponents minus anything for the rest of the season and although I got burned by a back door cover last week, I'm sticking to it. California's defense is hopelessly bad against the run and Ka'Deem Carey and B.J. Denker should be able to gash them for big plays on the ground. Arizona's defense has rounded back into form these last couple weeks and should take advantage of a turnover prone QB (whoever it ends up being) and an anemic offense that cannot block in any situation.

The Pick: Arizona 42, California 14

 UCLA (-29) over Colorado

The Buffs looked a lot better last week against Arizona but now is not the time to cash in on that improvement. The Bruins are angry and motivated after losing two straight despite being in the game late against Stanford and Oregon and are excited to be back at home for the first time in three weeks. Colorado simply can't match UCLA's athleticism on either side of the ball so even if the Buffs play disciplined and mistake free, they can't match up with the Bruins.

The Pick: UCLA 52, Colorado 20

Last Week Against the Spread:  3-2

Last Week Straight Up: 4-1

This Season Against the Spread: 37-31 (includes Thursday and Friday)

This Season Straight up: 54-14 

Friday, 1 November 2013

The 2013 Pac-12 Journey Game 68: Can USC Block Scott Crichton? Like At All?

Who is playing in this game?

The USC Trojans and the Oregon State Beavers.

Where is this game being played?

Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon.

What time does this game start and where can I find it on my television?

6:00 PM (PT) on ESPN2

What is the point spread?

Oregon State is favored by five points (-5). The line opened at -2.

What should I watch for when USC has the ball?

Christopher Hanwinckel/USA Today Sports

How is USC going to account for Scott Crichton? Crichton, a two time All-Pac-12 selection well on his way to a third, has been a tremendously disruptive force both against the run and the pass and USC's offensive line is in flux. The Trojans have struggled to block all season and will probably be without starting right tackle Kevin Graf who was carted off the field last week and possibly left tackle Aundrey Walker who missed most of USC's practices this week. The Trojans are also depleted at tight end and running back, the two positions that need to help against pass rushers.

If USC can account for Crichton, they may be able to run the ball against the Beavers. While Utah and Stanford are both schematically different than the Trojans, both run the ball with power and that's what USC always tries to establish. Lost in the hoopla about how bad USC's offense has been all season is how well the Trojans have produced on the ground. Prior to last week, the Trojans had averaged four yards per carry in five of seven games and scored at least one touchdown on the ground in every game. Than last week came around and the Trojans ran for 30 yards on 30 attempts (that includes yards lost to sacks) with no touchdowns. Cody Kessler is averaging only 7.2 yards per pass attempt with three touchdowns and four interceptions so USC can't afford to put the game on his shoulders. USC's success on offense will be determined by the play off their offensive line. If the big boys play like they did against Utah, then they will be swallowed up. If USC can run block they way they did in most of its other games, then the Trojans will be able to put a few drives together.

What should I watch for when Oregon State has the ball?

Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

A lot has been made this week of Oregon State being"exposed" by Stanford. It's true that the Beavers went into their game against Stanford leading the nation in passing yards and passing touchdowns and were shut down by the Cardinal but, can USC really replicate Stanford's formula? They can definitely do at least half of it. Stanford had success against Oregon State because they were able to get pressure by rushing only four men. OSU QB Sean Mannion loves seeing opposing teams blitz him because it leaves his receivers in one on one match ups and he can make a quick read and get rid of the ball within a couple seconds of the snap. What Mannion hates is holding onto the ball and waiting for a receiver to break open. As Stanford showed, if you can collapse the pocket with only your front four, then you can stop the Beavers' offense. The Trojans certainly do have the weapons in their front four to cause problems with stars like Leonard Williams and Devon Kennard but doubts linger in the USC secondary.

It's ideal to force Mannion to hold on to the ball and frustrate him but it won't do you much good if your defensive backs can't cover. Just because you drop seven defensive backs against five receivers does not mean you will automatically keep any one from getting open. This is the critical difference between what Stanford did and what USC can do. Stanford's defensive backs were immaculate against the Beavers while USC has struggled in the back end all year and is banged up to boot. starting corner back Anthony Brown will be out for a third straight game and starting safety Su'a Cravens is doubtful after being carted off last week. If the Trojans can hold up in their secondary, they will be able to slow the Beavers down to match the slow pace of their own offense. If the Trojans can't find a Stanford-like remedy for Brandin Cooks and friends, the Beavers will roll.

Which team should I bet on and which team will win?

With its starting offensive tackles and top three tight ends all either out or playing hurt, USC just can't run the ball tonight especially not with Crichton staring them down on the other side. USC should get to Mannion and take him down a few times but they just don't have the personnel to put a lid on Cooks the way Stanford did. Lay the points and take Oregon State to win, 27-20.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The 2013 Pac-12 Journey Game 67: Halloween in Pullman

What teams are playing?

The Arizona State Sun Devils and the Washington State Cougars.

Where is this game being played?

Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington.

What time does the game start and where can I find it on my television?

7:30 PM (PT)/8:30 PM (MT) on ESPN.

What is the point spread?

Arizona State is favoured by 11 points (-11). The line opened at -13.5.

What should I watch for when Arizona State has the ball?

ASU probably stands to have a good chance at moving the ball well by both land and air so it will be interesting to see how Mike Norvell balances the play calling for the ASU offense. Running Back Marion Grice has seen his yards per carry average drop from 6.59 to a still respectable 4.98 but has 18 total touchdowns, more than 15 entire teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Grice is going to be a heck of a challenge for Washington State, a team that has allowed 15 rushing touchdowns in eight games and is giving up an average of 173.5 rushing yards per game. The Cougars have been particularly exposed by spread offenses that feature a lot of zone read and the added threat of a running quarterback. Auburn amassed 295 yards against Cougars while the Ducks ripped them for 383 yards and six (!) touchdowns on the ground. Arizona State is not Oregon but their talent level is easily on par with Auburn and Grice in particular is more outstanding than any tailback who plays for the Tigers. Look for Grice to have an outstanding game tonight.

ASU could run the ball on every down and probably still win but when Norvell gets an itch to throw the ball, Taylor Kelly has proven himself to be an accurate passer and Jaelen Strong presents a darn near impossible challenge for the WSU corners with his combination of size and speed. Unless Washington State can get creative on defense and find a way to contain Grice and Strong, they'll be in for a long night.

What should I watch for when Washington State has the ball?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This may finally be Conner Halliday's last stand. Halliday has already thrown 17 interceptions this season, the most in the FBS. In addition to those many turnovers, a fair number of which came on bad throws and/or bad decisions, Halliday has been battered around and forced to play on one leg at times this season. Washington State finally had its first bye week of the season last week and that gave Halliday a 12 day reprieve to get healthy, work on his mechanics, and watch film. If Halliday can't keep it together tonight, he'll be done because he's already lost the fan base and he'll lose the coaching staff with another clunker.

Arizona State can definitely expedite Halliday's doom with a fine defensive performance. The Sun Devils' defense has been a disappointment of sorts this season based on their overall team play versus the number of All-Conference athletes they had returning from last year's stingy unit. Despite that, the Sun Devils have been scorching on defense lately, racking up 10 sacks and five takeaways in their last two games while holding both opponents (Colorado and Washington) to under 300 yards of total offense. ASU's tough start on defense can be epitomized by the play of its two biggest defensive stars, Carl Bradford and Will Sutton. Bradford and Sutton combined for 45 tackles for loss last season but struggled out of the gate this year. But against the Huskies they combined for five tackles for loss and both looked like their vintage selves for the first time all season. If Washington State can't hold up against ASU's defensive line, Halliday's decision making won't matter.

Which team should I bet on and which team will win?

Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

There really isn't any legitimate reason to pick Washington State here. The Cougars do not possess a distinct advantage in any personnel match up against the Sun Devils but they may yet have a chance in this game for illogical reasons. It's Halloween night where weird things happen in a town like Pullman that is weird all year round. Furthermore Arizona State has shown penchants for struggling on the road, playing down to the level of its opposition, and failing to string together win streaks. My heart is rooting for Washington State because it would be nice to see them get to six wins and give their long suffering fans a bowl game experience for the first time in over a decade. However, my head does not see how the Cougars can stop Grice while protecting Halliday. I don't feel great trusting the Sun Devils because they've bit me in spots like these before but I will go ahead and lay the 11 points and take Arizona State to win, 38-24.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The 2013 Pac-12 Power rankings: Post Week Nine

1. Oregon (Overall: 8-0, Conference: 5-0, Last Week: 1)
Oregon's offense did everything it could for two and a half quarters to keep UCLA in the game. For a little while it seemed as though UCLA was getting into position to pull an upset but Oregon in a flash turned the game into a signature blowout victory. Oregon played a C grade quality game and beat a top 15 quality team by four touchdowns.

2. Stanford (7-1, 5-1, LW: 2)
Concerns about the offense specifically with quarterback Kevin Hogan not only remain but are being amplified but the Stanford defense is just filthy.

3. UCLA (5-2, 2-2, LW: 4)
Lose by 28 points and move up one spot? Yes, when you give the best team outside the SEC since 2005 a real run for its money for almost three full quarters. The middle of the conference struggling certainly helps.

4. Oregon State (6-2, 4-1, LW: 3)
The Beavers' once dominant offense was exposed by Stanford but that's not all bad. The Beavers did look great on defense and there aren't a lot of Stanfords remaining on the schedule to copy the blueprint that Cardinal just established.

5. Arizona State (5-2, 3-1, LW: 5)
On a night when the Pac-12's "next best teams" got beat by the two powers, it was probably a good time for Arizona State to have its second bye week.

6. Washington (5-3, 2-3, LW: 8)
The Huskies were better against California and snapped their three game losing streak but the Huskies' passing game is still pretty hit or miss and let's face it, it's only Cal.

7. Arizona (5-2, 2-2, LW: 6)
B.J. Denker has been legitimately good at QB for three straight weeks now and the Wildcats' defense is rounding back into form as well. After Arizona gets through lowly Cal this week, the Wildcats should be 6-2 heading into a huge showdown with UCLA with significant Pac-12 South implications.

8. Washington State (4-4, 2-3, LW: 9)
Spent the bye week preparing all the wackiness and absurdities that are sure to come from a Mike Leach coached team playing in Pullman on Halloween night.

9. USC (5-3, 2-2, LW: 10)
A valiant effort by the USC defense went unspoiled by a competent and largely mistake-free offense against Utah. The Trojans won over the Utes despite having almost half as many scholarship players at the ready.

10. Utah (4-4, 1-4, LW: 7)
Utah's program defining win over Stanford is looking more fluky by the day. The Utes have struggled to run the ball all year but the hope was that the Utah tailbacks would rise to the challenge and pick up their ailing quarterback Travis Wilson. That makes the health of Wilson all the more important. If Wilson can;t get back to gripping and throwing the ball properly and pain free, Utah won`t get to six wins.

11. Colorado (3-4, 0-4, LW: 11)
Colorado was reasonably competitive in a conference game for the first time in over a calender year but there is still a very long way to go for this young, fledgling Buffalo program. The Buffs brought their best effort and still lost by 24 at home, a sign of how truly down the Colorado talent pool really is.

12. California (1-7, 0-5, LW: 12)
I started this last week without explaining it but here is the gist of what is happening underneath California`s name from now on: I`m sick of talking about how awful Cal is so I`m just going to post a picture of a sad bear in this space from here on out. What happened to you Cal? You used to be so much fun.

The Award Tracker:

Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year:
1. QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (LW: 1)
Mariota's streak of consecutive games with at least one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown ended at nine but he did account for one TD with his arm raising his season total to 29. His numbers may not show it but he was efficient and mistake free; he didn't give us as many dynamic plays as we have come to expect from him but he gave the Ducks everything they needed to beat a good team.

2. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona (LW: 3)
Carey ran for 121 yards and four touchdowns against Colorado and did most of his damage early and was later rotated in and out of the game in the interest of saving his legs. Four players lead the conference with 12 rushing touchdowns but three of those plays have played eight games and the other has played seven. Carey has 10 rushing touchdowns in only six games played.

3. WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State (LW: 2)
Cooks had easily his worst game of the season to date so far but still managed a decent stat line against the great Stanford defense. Cooks' performance against Stanford was a hallmark of a truly great player, we all saw he wasn't at his best but he still managed a respectable out put of eight catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.

Honorable Mentions:
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington

QB Sean Mannion, Jr., Oregon State

RB Marion Grice, Sr., Arizona State

Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year:
1. LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (LW: 1)
Barr was a beast again against Oregon as he blew right past Oregon left tackle Tyler Johnstone for a strip sack early in the game and finished with four solo tackles, two for a loss, a sack, and a forced fumble.

2. LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford (LW: 3)
Murphy had a career day against Oregon State, tallying eight tackles, three and a half tackles for loss, two and a half sacks, and although he was only credited with one pass break up, he got his hands on at least three passes. Murphy now leads the Pac-12 in tackles for loss and sacks which tempted me to move him to first, but Murphy has an extra game played over Barr and I still prefer Barr`s body of work to date despite the stats. The gap between Murphy and Barr has narrowed to a finite margin though.

3. DE Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State (LW: 2)
Crichton had a very quiet day against Stanford's offensive tackles with the exception of one play where he absolutely blew up Dallas Loyd to force a fumble, recovered said fumble, and returned it 36 yards. No surprise though that Oregon State wasted that great play by punting five plays later.

Honorable Mentions:
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford

LB Addison Gillam, Fr., Colorado

CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon

Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year:
1. RB Thomas Tyner, Oregon (LW: 2)
Tyner returned to being the third string tailback against UCLA but rushed for 77 yards and his eighth touchdown of the season on 14 carries. 66 of those yards came on Oregon's final drive and although the margin was 21 points at the time, the Ducks have looked to players like LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner to get that final kill shot late in the game. The fact that Tyner was able to get out there and push the Ducks over 40 points shows the Oregon coaches are building their trust in him.
2. QB Jared Goff, California (LW: 1)
Tyner's promotion to the top spot has less to do with Tyner's own performance (although he has been very good) and more to do with me having an epiphany over Goff and getting sick of him. He is a startign quarterback and therefore impacting his team more than any other offensive freshman but that doesn't mean he is playing will. Goff has been inefficient and turnover prone and has been benched twice already this season. Tyner doesn't play such a big role on his team but he is a far better player playing at a much higher level.

3. RB Michael Adkins, Colorado (LW: 3)
I'm keeping three candidates for this award strictly for the sake of continuity at this point. The crop of offensive freshman in the conference this season outside of Tyner has been very disappointing.
Honorable Mentions:
RB Paul Perkins, UCLA

QB Sefo Liufau, Colorado

RB Khalfani Muhammad, California

Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year:
1. LB Addison Gilliam, Colorado (LW: 1)
Gillam's numbers won't suggest it but he did everything he could to stop Denker and Carey from running all over Colorado. He wasn't credited with as many tackles as he should have and he wasn't always the first man to make contact but he was always around the ball and did well to track ball carriers. Unfortunately, the rest of Colorado's defense couldn't follow his lead.

2. LB Myles Jack, UCLA (LW: 2)
Jack had a great game against oregon as he made the big play on defense to set up both of UCLA's short touchdown drives. He made a great effort play to punch the ball away from Keanon Lowe to force a fumble from behind to set up UCLA's first touchdown. In the second quarter, Jack showed his athleticism by runnign around two Oregon blockers to swallow up a punt and set up another quick, short touchdown drive.

3. LB Scooby Wright, Arizona (LW: 3)
Another solid game with nine tackles for Wright against Colorado. Wright has gone from an under the radar recruit, to winning a starting job early in the season, to entering the top 20 in the Pac-12 in tackles.

Honorable Mentions:
DB Daquawn Brown, Washington State

DL Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

LB Torrodney Prevot, Oregon

Pac-12 Coach of the Year:
1. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (LW: 2)
I'm starting to wonder if Helfrich may actually be better as Oregon head coach than Chip Kelly, we'll have to wait at least three more years when Helfrich has his own players to pass a true judgement but Oregon's performance last week in contrast to last year was telling. Last year, the Ducks made mistakes and let Stanford hang around but they kept making mistakes, allowed the game to go all the way to the end, and lost. This year against UCLA, Oregon recovered from its mistakes, soffocated UCLA on defense and found the kill switch on offense soon enough to still win by four touchdowns.

2. Jim Mora, UCLA (LW: 1)
Mora should be pleased by seeing his team slow down the Oregon death machine but I love his attitude after the loss. Mora said emphatically that he's "sick of being close, close is not good enough. We need to start winning these games." His players will respond to that and won't be happy to settle for being close but not good enough against top teams. Of his team responds the way I think they will, UCLA will get a second chance to win one of "these" games against either Oregon or Stanford in the Pac-12 title game.

3. Mike Riley, Oregon State (LW: 3)
Riley's 4th down decisions against Stanford were highly questionable and they may well have cost his team the game. That being said, Riley's body of work this season is still greater than all but two coaches in the Pac-12.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Pac-12 Weekend Roundup: Week Nine

USC 19, Utah 3

All year I've been saying that Utah belongs in the Pac-12 and had been showing themselves to be a team that could legitimately compete with anyone in the conference. That pretty much went out the window last Saturday. I know Utah has been a poor road team recently but there is no excuse for losing to such a depleted USC team at an empty L.A. Coliseum. Travis Wilson promised to "suck it up and play" for Utah at quarterback but the Utes fans probably wish he hadn't after he completed 5/14 passes with a pair of interceptions before mercifully being pulled for Adam Schultz who did not fare much better.

As for USC, it was encouraging for them to beat and display competent offense after last week's ugly showing against Notre Dame. It's hard to be impressed with Utah's defense forcing field goal after field goal when put on the field in their own territory throughout the afternoon thanks to the Utes' offensive ineptitude. The Utes held USC to 4.1 yards per play and gave their offense a chance to win all the way into the fourth but a handful of long passing plays from USC and a raging dumpster fire from the Utah offense did them in.

Thankfully for Utah, the second bye week is coming at a perfect time as Wilson will finally have some time to rest his hand and heal his broken index finger. Utah will return to the field in two weeks at home against Arizona State, a game Utah may very well need to win in order to reach bowl eligibility. The hits keep coming for USC though as they play on short week this Friday at Oregon State. The Trojans haven't won in Corvallis since 2004 and will have a more short-handed roster than at any other point during this road losing streak to the Beavers.

Oregon 42, UCLA 14

Bruce Ely/The Oregonian

For about 42 minutes of game time, it looked like UCLA had replicated the Stanford formula and was going to take Oregon all the way down to the wire. Then Oregon stopped making mistakes and allowing the Bruins to hang around and simply pummeled UCLA out of the building over the final 18 minutes of the game. The Ducks were very sloppy from the get go handing UCLA the ball on a short field following a fumble on the second play from scrimmage and later gifted UCLA another short touchdown drive on a blocked punt. Anthony Barr was dominating Tyler Johnstone, Myles Jack was having a coming out party on national television and UCLA was rolling with confidence...on defense.

The reason UCLA let this game get away from them and allowed it to get out of hand was because the Bruins offense was totally ineffective and the defense could only keep them in the game for so long. The Ducks held UCLA to 3.99 yards per play (for sake of context, Stanford held UCLA to 4.03 YPP the week before) and although UCLA ran the ball effectively for awhile it was almost by design of the Oregon defense. The Ducks kept small numbers in the box and encouraged the Bruins to run the ball. The Bruins made hay for awhile but if they had one bad play that knocked them off track, the Bruins could not recover thanks to their anemic passing game.

Banged up offensive line or not, UCLA fans may have to face an unfortunate reality about their quarterback, Brett Hundley. Hundley is an amazing athlete and a great play maker. He made several very nice plays against the Ducks to extend plays and run for first downs. Both on his short touchdown run early in the game and on his conversion of a 3rd and 14 later on, Hundley dodged multiple tacklers in the backfield and did a tremendous job to create a big play when the Ducks had him and the rest of the UCLA offense dead to rights. Hundley is a great football player and exciting raw talent but a merely average quarterback who hasn't gotten better since last year.

Hundley made a number of poor reads in the passing game especially on the first play of the 4th quarter with UCLA trailing by a touchdown and facing a 3rd and 20 from midfield. Hundley had an open check down for five to 10 yards but forced a pass deep into coverage to try to get the first down and hit Oregon safety Avery Patterson right between the two and the one on his jersey. Had he taken the check down, UCLA could have set up a make-able 4th down or played field position and pinned Oregon inside their own 10. Instead, he threw a bad interception that was returned to the UCLA 39 yard line and a few plays later the Ducks were up 28-14, pretty much an insurmountable lead in Autzen Stadium.

I don't want to rag on Hundley because he isn't getting any help from his offensive line right now and I also don't like Noel Mazzone's offensive system that has him throwing so many useless swing passes that never work against fast defenses like Oregon. Hundley's slow development and lack of improvement is as much UCLA's fault as it is Hundley since he does possess a great arm and terrific natural passing ability but the Bruins' system allows for very few routes down field and it seems like Mazzone and perhaps head coach Jim Mora as well aren't showing enough faith in Hundley to make big throws and lead the team. I just hope Hundley is wise enough to come back for one more year in college and the UCLA coaches will reward him by tweaking the offense to allow Hundley to develop into a better down field passer.

These two teams were co-favorites for the conference two weeks ago but are headed in very different directions now. The Ducks will get a bye week to prepare for their massive showdown with Stanford that will likely decide the Pac-12 North. Meanwhile, UCLA will get no rest as they are back in action on Saturday but at least they get to return to the Rose Bowl and face lowly Colorado.

Arizona 44, Colorado 20

Speaking of poor ole Colorado, the Buffs showed their first real signs of encouragement in over a month (I know they won last week but what can you really take from beating Charleston Southern?), but didn't have the gas to hang with Arizona. True Freshman Sefo Liufau was okay in his first conference start at QB for Colorado. He made a few nice throws and coupled them with inaccuracy. He never really built much momentum one way or the other while Arizona's B.J. Denker continued to play well. He still isn't a threat to go deep and he will always be limited for a variety of reasons but he was efficient and (motsly) mistake free and did major damage on the ground.

Colorado has gotten better but once again they lack the athletes to compete. This is going to sound awfully simplistic but this game really came down to Arizona having Denker and Ka'Deem Carey while Colorado did not. Carey was great again scoring four touchdowns and averaging better than five yards per carry while Denker added 192 rushing yards of his own. Colorado seemed to have a large portion of Arizona's offense reasonably well defended but they were simply outrun and outflanked by Arizona's superior athletes. I like that Mike MacIntyre was upset in his post game press conference saying that this one hurt more than the others because he felt his team could win this one but unfortunately, Colorado just does not have the players right now. The Buffs gave a great effort and hung in for a long time with the Wildcats and still ended up losing by 24 at home. A game like this can really set in the reality of what MacIntyre is facing in his effort to rebuild this program.

Stanford 20, Oregon State 12

Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Stanford has built a reputation for making great offenses look ordinary and Oregon State looked very ordinary against the Cardinal. Oregon State came into the game with the nation's leading passing offense both in terms of yards and touchdowns. Using raw yardage totals as a basis for the assessment of an offense is flawed for a number of reasons but the Beavers had been impressive throwing the ball regardless. The problem for Oregon State was not using unfiltered numbers to make themselves artificially look better than they actually were. The real problem was the Beavers doing all their work against inferior competition, never facing a defense ranked better than 76th in the nation in pass efficiency defense before this past weekend.

All year we waited for the Beavers to struggle to throw the ball. On Saturday, they struggled and they had nothing else to fall back on. As it turns out, you can only survive for so long without the ability to run the ball and the Beavers' 2.43 yards per rush average caught up to them. Stanford's secondary had a sublime performance in pass coverage which led to Sean Mannion holding onto the ball for way too long. Unlike Brett Hundley for UCLA against Oregon, Mannion is a statue in the pocket and was unable to extend plays under pressure. Stanford sacked Mannion eight times and put a blanket on national leading receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks had a reasonable game with 80 yards and his 13th touchdown of the season on nine catches but the real key was that he could not break away and get yards after the catch. Cooks had been great all season as much for his ability to turn short passes up field as his ability to haul in bombs deep in the secondary. Cooks was not able to get separation all night and Stanford did a great job as they always do rallying to the ball and tackling in space.

The Beavers' offense was in reverse all night and that made Mike Riley's coaching performance all the more frustrating. Riley twice passed up make-able field goals to go for it on fourth down in 4th down and came up short both times. The Beavers could have an probably should have been up either 6-0 or 9-0 at halftime. Off the second of those two missed 4th downs, the Stanford offense that had been dormant in the first half suddenly reeled off a long touchdown drive buoyed by plays of 27 and 37 yards (Stanford had zero plays longer than 20 yards up until that point) and took a 7-3 lead into the half. After Oregon State fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, Stanford quickly cashed in to go up 13-3 following a missed extra point and suddenly Stanford was in full control.

As Oregon State sputtered on offense and the clock started rolling, I never felt at any point in the second half that Oregon State had any chance to win. Yet as I'm sure everyone else did, I kept looking down at the scoreboard and seeing Stanford not pull away and thinking, "Oregon State is two lucky bounces away from flipping this game." And it almost happened when a Tyler Gaffney fumble set up a field goal to cut the Stanford lead to 20-12 and a quick three and out gave Oregon State the ball with a chance to tie. This illustrates what caused Stanford's undoing against Utah and what will, at this point, be their undoing in nine days against Oregon. The Cardinal are so one-dimensional on offense without the consistent threat of the pass and are so predictable and conservative with their run game that they keep opponents in the game even when they are dominating.

Kevin Hogan is not a gifted passer and is not effective throwing from the pocket but he is a very good athlete who operates well outside the pocket. Where are the zone reads? Where are the option plays? Where are the roll outs? Stanford was good offensively last year after Hogan took over because they tailored the offense to his strengths and they had a very good supporting talent around him at the skill positions. Stanford has not been able to replace the talent they lost at tight end and although Ty Montgomery has emerged at wide receiver, he is not a reliable every down player. Last year Stanford was able to line up Zach Ertz anywhere on the field and he would use his size, hands, and route running to create an opening and move the sticks on third down just about any time they needed him to. Montgomery is a great player but he doesn't work in the same way that Ertz did and Stanford hasn't developed anyone who can. Tyler Gaffney is as good as Stepfan Taylor was and has replaced everything he gave them but the offense is sputtering because the passing game has regressed and they are not tailoring the offense to get the most out of Hogan's skill set.

Stanford eventually stood tall and got the stop they needed late to survive but they won't be playing from the same position of strength next Thursday when Oregon comes to town. The challenge of stopping the Ducks two years in a row got even stiffer during the OSU game when standout defensive end Ben Gardner suffered a season ending injury. Gardner tore his left pectoral against the Beavers and is out for the year leaving the Cardinal woefully thin at defensive end. Henry Anderson, who was second team All-Pac-12 last year, will try to make his season debut against Oregon but will definitely be rusty and probably won't be entirely 100% either. More concerning is that when asked what the plan was if Anderson couldn't go either, head coach David Shaw simply said, "that's a good question." Yikes. If there is one thing Oregon does well it is test your depth on defense and force you to use players you are unsure of a lot more than you would like. We'll see if the Ducks just found the crack in Stanford's armor that they needed.

Washington 41, California 17

I told anyone who would listen to take Cal's opponents minus anything for the rest of the year and up until the 5:03 mark of the 4th quarter that was holding until Khalfani Muhammad ripped off a 73 yard run against Washington's second string defense for a frustrating back door cover. Keith Price played without a wrap on his right thumb for the first time since the Arizona game one month ago and although he still didn't look as good throwing the ball as he did early in the year, he was unquestionably better. Bishop Sankey got back on track in a big way with 241 yards on 27 carries (a very tidy 8.9 yards per carry average) and a pair of touchdowns. It was not all good news on offense for the Huskies though as Kasen Williams, he of the team leading 77 receptions and 878 yards a year ago, is likely done for the rest of the season with a broken foot. Williams has been a major disappointment this season as he has scored exactly one touchdown and his receptions per game are down from 5.9 to 3.6. Williams has had an up and down college career but he was a five star recruit who had his eyes on the NFL from the beginning. We may very well have seen Williams in a Huskies uniform for the last time.

As for the Golden Bears, they were atrocious again on defense allowing 8.23 yards per play which raises their season average to 7.04 yards allowed per play, worse than every other team in college football save for five unfortunate programs. Quarterback Jared Goff was unimpressive but was at least able to avoid the bench long enough to attempt 54 passes and account for 336 passing yards. Once the game was out of hand, Sonny Dykes did remove Goff but instead of bring out redshirt freshman Zach Kline who competed neck and neck with Goff for playing time all summer, came off the bench to replace him against Oregon, and battled him again this past week, Dykes brought out junior Austin Hinder.

Cal football everyone:

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Post That Takes Your Money: Week Nine

Utah (+4.5) wins outright over USC

I know Travis Wilson is banged up but a dead crowd at the coliseum won't be able to affect him or his backup Adam Schultz and USC has simply run out of players. The Trojans only had 53 scholarship players available for last week's game against Notre Dame and five of those players have been pronounced out of this game due to injuries. USC got excited for one game without Lane Kiffin but that has disappeared. Look for Utah's defense to overwhelm USC's depleted offense and for Wilson to play well enough through pain to win on the road and put Utah on the brink of bowl eligibility.

The Pick: Utah 27, USC 17

Oregon (-23.5) over UCLA

Oregon should be energized by getting De'Anthony Thomas back and they will be looking to land a statement win over a good UCLA team to prove they belong ahead of Florida State in the chase for the BCS championship game. The best and perhaps only reason you need to pick Oregon is UCLA starting three freshman offensive linemen on the road in the loudest and most hostile stadium on the West Coast. Oregon's big, athletic defensive line should overwhelm the young Bruins like Stanford did last week and the Ducks offense is good enough to score on anybody, even a defense as good as UCLA. I hope you jumped on this line when Oregon opened as a 17 point favorite but even at 23.5, I still like the Ducks

The Pick: Oregon 45, UCLA 20

Arizona (-13) over Colorado

I expect Colorado to get a few encouraging plays from Sefo Luifau and Michael Adkins on offense but a better core of linebackers and a change of venue is not nearly enough to slow down Ka'Deem Carey and keep this score close.

The Pick: Arizona 49, Colorado 24

Stanford (-4) over Oregon State

Stanford consumes one dimensional offenses and the Beavers haven't faced a pass defense better than 76th ranked Utah. Stanford is hurting a bit on offense without Devin Cajuste but I think The Cardinal can grind this one out on the ground and slow down Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks.

The Pick: Stanford 31, Oregon State 24

Washington (-28) over California

Just take Cal's opponent minus anything for the rest of the season (except for maybe the Colorado game) and thank me later.

The Pick: Washington 52, California 17

Last Week Against the Spread: 2-5

Last Week Straight Up: 4-3

This Season Against the Spread: 33-28

This Season Straight up: 49-12

The 2013 Pac-12 Journey Game 66: Washington is reeling but California is so much worse

What teams are playing?

The California Golden Bears and the Washington Huskies.

Where is this game being played?

Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington.

What time does this game start and where can I find it on my television?

8:00 PM (PT) on Fox Sports 1.

What is the point spread?

Washington is favored by 29 and a half points (-29.5).

What should I watch for when California has the ball?

How quickly does Jared Goff get benched? Goff was removed from the game last week after a poor performance and has not accounted for a touchdown in three of Cal's past four games. This is particularly bad facing a talented and desperate team on the road that is starving for a win after being embarrassed last week. The Huskies were a top five defense through the first five games of the season but have been run over for 600+ yards in each of the past two games by Oregon and Arizona State. The Huskies have had their biggest problems stopping the run allowing 265 rushing yards to Oregon and 314 to ASU. The good thing for Washington is Cal is hopeless trying to run the ball. With a patchwork offensive line and a lack of dynamic talent in the backfield, Cal can't run the ball and that means they are putting everything on either Goff or Zach Kline who will probably play in this game for a variety of reasons.

Goff is a perfect example of why total yardage is one of the last stats you should ever look at when evaluating a quarterback. Goff was the national leader in passing yards after Cal's first three games and he still ranks in a tie for third in the Pac-12 in passing yards with 2236. However, Goff only has nine touchdown passes and has thrown seven interceptions. Compare that to Washington's Keith Price who is trailing Goff by 443 yards but has 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Goff is a struggling young quarterback who has lost his confidence and Washington has a pass defense that may have struggled the last two weeks but still ranks among the nation's elite. Washington is allowing a 105.83 opposing passer rating and 5.4 yards per opposing pass attempts, both rank second in the Pac-12. It's going to be a long night for Goff and probably for Kline too.

What should I watch for when Washington has the ball?

Do you expect the Huskies to get off the team bus and show up at Husky Stadium? Good, because I do too and that means Washington will score a lot of points. Cal had a young and largely untalented defense to begin with and that has been compounded by a run of injuries. Five players who started Cal's opener against Northwestern are out for the season due to either injury or in Chris McCain's case dismissal from the team. Washington had its worst offensive game of the season last week but that was probably just an aberration. The Huskies were physically and emotionally drained coming off back to back grueling games against Stanford and Oregon and had to go on the road to face a good team. The Huskies are back home against a bad team and have spent the entire week getting ripped into by their coaches for their poor effort against the Sun Devils.

Look for Washington's offensive line to man up and play with a physical edge against a weak front seven to pave the way for Bishop Sankey to get back on track with another 150+ yard performance. Price practiced all week without any tape or other protection on his injured right thumb for the first time in three weeks so look for him to be sharper and more accurate as well as he looks to pick apart Cal's ghastly secondary.