December 10, 2013 at 5:31 PM
We waited until the end of the Pac-12 football season — until after the title game — to bestow honors. Herewith:
Outstanding offensive player – Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona. It’s an injustice — and really, a reflection on how the Pac-12 is sometimes viewed nationally — that they’re taking six guys to the Heisman Trophy ceremony and none of them is Carey. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry (for 1,716 total) on a team that couldn’t throw the ball very well.
Outstanding defensive player — It’s probably pointless to rely on statistics to argue for Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy over the official Pac-12 choice for defensive player of the year, Arizona State’s Will Sutton. But Sutton’s tackle-for-loss and sack numbers were far below his 2012 totals, and Murphy led everybody else with 21.5 and 14, respectively. Choose this after the title game, and I have to think it goes to Murphy.
The Swiss-army-knife player of the year — Who else but Myles Jack of Bellevue High and UCLA, who might be getting some Heisman attention down the road if he continues to play both ways?
Disappointing team — California. The Bears had a coaching change and an unceasing list of injuries, but they were out of their league all season long, only a nervous victory over FCS Portland State from going winless.
Game of the year — 1. Oregon 36, Oregon State 35, Nov. 29. Hard to top a game that had four lead changes in the final quarter. 2. Arizona State 38, UCLA 33, Nov. 23. Sun Devils broke out big and held on to get a leg up on the Pac-12 South title. 3, Oregon State 51, Utah 48 (OT), Sept. 14. Ultimately, you could say it meant one team getting to a bowl and the other not. 4, Stanford 31, Washington 28, Oct. 5. But for a controversial official replay-overturn in the final minute, the trajectory of two seasons might have changed. (more…)
December 8, 2013 at 9:18 PM
A year ago, when the eight Pac-12 teams ventured into bowl games, there was at least one rash prediction that the league might sweep the post-season. It forgot one tenet: That pretty much doesn’t happen; bowl results are often unpredictable, and in fact, often not a great indicator of the strength of a conference. The league went an undistinguished 4-4.
Now the Pac-12 has a record nine teams in bowls, and just off a loose glance at them, I’m guessing it’s going to be favored in perhaps seven (I’ll reserve judgment on Stanford-Michigan State and USC-Fresno State). So the stage is set for the league to flex some muscle and show it deserves mention among the best in its history. Regardless of how accurate the reflection of strength, it needs to carve out a winning record, at least.
Some thoughts, in order of the games:
New Mexico, Albuquerque, Dec. 21, WSU (6-6) vs. Colorado State (7-6) — Two programs in a state of rebuild under second-year coaches, Mike Leach of WSU and Jim McElwain of CSU. Probably safe to say neither one projected as a bowl team at the start of the season. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Cougars embrace the idea of capturing their first winning season since 2003, or if they’re just happy to be there. They’ll need to contain RB Kapri Bibbs (1,572 yards rushing).
Las Vegas, Dec. 21, USC (9-4) vs. Fresno State (11-1) — The first thing you think of when you see a matchup like this is: How seriously does USC take it, and how much of a motivational edge does Fresno State co-opt? (For more on this, refer back to 1992, when the two played in the Freedom Bowl. Jim Sweeney’s FSU team won 24-7 and it got Larry Smith fired at USC.) The Trojans will be coached by ex-offensive coordinator (and interim head man) Clay Helton, which also raises the question of whether USC will get consistent quality work in with a coaching transition going on. You’d like to think USC’s desultory performance last year in the Sun Bowl, on and off the field, would point Troy toward some serious redemption in this game. But it has to corral talented Bulldogs QB Derek Carr, who leads a team that’s first nationally in pass offense. (more…)
December 7, 2013 at 10:07 PM
Got to give it up for Stanford, which throttled Arizona State on the road, 38-14, Saturday night for the Pac-12 football title. The Cardinal didn’t do much for sustained TV viewing, blowing ahead by three touchdowns in the first half, and undoubtedly, leading a lot of viewers to switch to the rousing Michigan State-Ohio State game.
ASU’s crippled running backs situation didn’t help, but it wouldn’t have been enough to make up a 24-point difference. Marion Grice was already out for the game and D.J. Foster went out after a leg injury.
Oregon gets mounds of publicity for its flash and facilities, but it’s been Stanford that crowded the Ducks out of the title game the past two years. This year, the Pac-12 South finished strong, and Arizona State had the best conference record in the league at 7-1, but at the end, it was Stanford standing tallest for the second straight season.
December 6, 2013 at 9:50 PM
In bars in Eugene Friday night, there were no doubt televisions tuned to the Mid-American Championship game, and some people cheering hard for Bowling Green, and more disinterested others wondering what all the clamor was about.
Well, undefeated Northern Illinois’ bid to crash the BCS for a second straight year went badly awry in a 47-27 loss to Bowling Green, which brightens Oregon’s chance of a fifth straight trip to the BCS. It’s still an uphill struggle, but the NIU loss was a big step.
Now Saturday’s games become big for the Ducks, and if they should back-door their way into the BCS, it would radically alter the presumed Pac-12 bowl destinations.
Saturday, Oklahoma State (10-1, 6th in the BCS standings) hosts Oklahoma (9-2, 17th), and Baylor (10-1, 9th) hosts Texas (8-3). Oke State, Baylor and Texas are tied for the Big 12 lead with 7-1 records, and OSU has beaten both Texas and Baylor.
It would appear to serve Oregon (10-2, 12th) best if Oklahoma wins (that might be debatable) and definitely if Baylor loses, as the goal for the Ducks would be a combination of results that sees only one Big 12 team to the BCS. Oklahoma might become a threat to Oregon if it wins (it would need to jump into the top 14 to be eligible, which it likely would with a victory), but that’s probably a better option for Oregon if Baylor wins later in the day. In any case, it would aid Oregon if Baylor loses, but the Bears are a big favorite against the Longhorns.
Assuming Florida State handles Duke, the other game that might be important to Oregon is Ohio State-Michigan State. The Spartans are probably in the BCS win or lose — headed to the Rose Bowl with a defeat in that scenario — but a decisive Ohio State victory would give Oregon the best chance. Even at that, the big fan support Big Ten teams usually get probably tilts the Spartans into the BCS.
So here’s the equation: Oregon figures to be one of four teams jockeying for three remaining spots after Alabama takes one at-large position. The other three would be Clemson, a second Big 12 team, and Michigan State if it loses. And Michigan State and Clemson appear to be better bets than Oregon to make it, so it likely comes down to the Ducks versus the Big 12.
If Oregon joins the Pac-12 winner in the BCS, it would push all the Pac-12 bowl-eligible teams up a notch, and cause a lot of 11th-hour hand-wringing and debate by bowl committees. A second BCS team in the league would also be worth about half a million dollars to each athletic department.
December 6, 2013 at 2:01 PM
Considering nobody has set foot on a football field since last Saturday, it’s been a fairly tumultuous week in the Pac-12: Steve Sarkisian to USC, Jim Mora anchoring at UCLA, Chris Petersen to Washington.
What’s left is Stanford’s visit Saturday night to Arizona State, and our final Pac-12 pick of the season.
Stanford (plus 3) at Arizona State — This is a tough one, in that it’s hard to judge how much ground Arizona State has made up since Sept. 21, and whether that’s enough to offset the huge edge Stanford evinced in that game, racing out to a 29-0 lead before the Sun Devils made it interesting in the second half. Initially, my inclination was to the Sun Devils; I haven’t been all that wowed by Stanford’s offense (and in some key situations, some play-calling). There’s not much doubt ASU developed a bigger head of steam than any other program in the league as the season went on, winning seven straight. And now the Sun Devils have not only the home-field advantage, but the revenge motive as well. In the final analysis, in a game matching veteran teams, I’m tilting toward the one that has a little more big-game experience. That, and the loss of ASU’s standout runner, Marion Grice, should be the difference. Stanford 34, Arizona State 28.
Last week — 5-1 (2-4 versus the spread). Season — 67-24 (45-35 versus the spread).
December 5, 2013 at 4:37 PM
Three days after Steve Sarkisian left for USC, we’re left to sort out the way he left the UW, which, unfortunately, is the way a lot of coaches move on to other jobs — by stretching the truth (OK, flat-out lying) about their interest in the new job.
A colleague suggested Sarkisian’s clumsy exit was equal to the mess Rick Neuheisel created back in February of 2003, when he had a misbegotten dalliance with the San Francisco 49ers while coaching Washington. More on that later.
Sarkisian went on with KJR’s Mitch Levy early Monday morning and said this when asked whether he had interviewed for the USC job: “I didn’t interview for the job. They reached out to me, and I talked to them. I’m not anywhere near along the course of taking that job, or not. And by no means, I don’t think they’re in that place (of offering it) at all . . . like I’ve always said, I’ve got a great job . . . I’m fired up about where this program is headed . . .”
Within four hours, word was creeping out that he was gone to USC.
If it wasn’t already apparent that Sarkisian had been less than forthcoming, it became patently clear in a timeline Trojans athletic director Pat Haden provided to the LA Times. He said he and three other athletic-department operatives flew in to interview Sarkisian Sunday, and after he got back to Los Angeles that evening, he offered Sarkisian the job.
So in his comments to Levy, Sarkisian could have added: “Of course, I’m lying like a rug.”
He apologized the next day, of course, when asked. He said it was “in the best interest of the young men . . . I didn’t want to put (UW or USC players) in a situation of uncertainty.”
Much better, of course, that his UW players learn of his departure through social media, which most of them did.
Sarkisian isn’t the first coach to be tripped up, and questions about job interest elsewhere are never easy. But rather than flat-out lie, why not say, “No comment,” or “I never speculate about other jobs” or something to that effect?
Now, the comparison to Neuheisel. As tawdry as Sarkisian’s final act was in Seattle, it can’t be compared to the Neuheisel/49ers fiasco.
You’ll recall that on an early-February weekend in 2003, Neuheisel slipped away to interview with the Niners, spending time with the iconic Bill Walsh. Word was leaking out by Monday, and Neuheisel went to elaborate pains to scotch the rumor. He went on KJR with Mike Gastineau. He denied the meeting to Times columnist Blaine Newnham. He even told athletic director Barbara Hedges it wasn’t true. And the crowning misadventure: On university letterhead, the UW released a statement debunking the reports of a Neuheisel-Niners interview.
In terms of elaborate coverups, it was second only to Watergate.
Problem was, you’ll recall that Neuheisel was heard blabbing loudly on a cell phone in an airport gate area in San Francisco about the interview — in itself, that’s hard to fathom; you’re in a gate with Seattle-bound passengers, who might recognize you, and you’re essentially putting your whole weekend on speaker-phone — and was overheard by Post-Intelligencer columnist John Levesque. A couple of days after Neuheisel’s campaign to throw cold water on the 49er meeting, Levesque wrote about the whole scene at the airport, and Neuheisel’s story came crashing down ignominiously on him and Washington.
My colleague postulated that the only thing that separates the two incidents is that Sarkisian left and Neuheisel didn’t. Indeed, there’s a grain of truth to that; if your spouse cheats on you, reconciliation is probably tougher than just booting him/her out the door. Still, the Neuheisel debacle takes the cake for prevarication — made more laughable by the fact he was caught so red-headed in the lie. It no doubt greased the skids to his eventual firing later months later, as it caused a serious erosion in support.
With Neuheisel, there was also the nagging sense that he was more frequently looking at other jobs (Notre Dame, Cleveland Browns) so the lie was even harder for UW partisans to stomach. So, edge to Neuheisel on this one.
Back in 2003, when his lie about the meeting with the 49ers was exposed, Neuheisel explained that he’d done it to protect a confidentiality agreement with the NFL team. When his turn came a decade later, Sarkisian said it was in the best interest of the young men.
Such noble, high-minded thinking.
December 4, 2013 at 2:36 PM
The bowl scenario is ever-shifting, and it’s done that in the past few days for some Pac-12 programs. Before this week, there was strong sentiment within the league that Stanford, if it didn’t prevail in the league-title game Saturday against Arizona State, was going to slide all the way down to the Sun Bowl.
Now that’s changed. One reason is that USC is apparently out of the equation for the Holiday Bowl, where it was going to get strong consideration, never having played in it. But with the appointment of Steve Sarkisian Monday as head coach, the Trojans have indicated a strong desire to play in an early bowl to get on with the transition to a new staff, which points them squarely at the Las Vegas Bowl. Vegas is the second bowl on the slate this year, 90 minutes after the New Mexico Bowl Dec. 21 — and nine days before the Holiday.
The buzz is that of the Rose, Alamo and Holiday, it will be some combination of Stanford, Arizona State and Oregon. That may not be breaking news, but there was thought that the Alamo might see UCLA (9-3) as attractive for the LA TV market. Now the belief is that UCLA is out of that mix, although the Alamo is renowned for being tight-lipped about its intentions.
The Alamo’s choices could be limited anyway, if Stanford beats ASU. If that happens, the Alamo can pick from only ASU (8-1) and Oregon (7-2), because the 6-3 teams in the league are two games distant in the standings from ASU, and the rules require a maximum one-game spread if you’re going to jump one team for another.
UCLA thus ends up in the Sun, and I’m told that the Fight Hunger (Dec. 27) is still focused on Washington despite the departure of Sarkisian. And I still think Washington State ends up in the New Mexico Bowl Dec. 21. Arizona is pitching hard for the Heart of Dallas Bowl Jan. 1 (a spot the Big Ten probably can’t fill), and Oregon State is working the rest of the bowls unaffiliated with the league that might have an opening.
Until the latest developments, the Stanford-to-the-Sun notion had been fed by the idea that of the top three (Rose, Alamo and Holiday), UCLA and USC still figured prominently, but now neither one does. The conference, which lobbies some bowls hard at this time of year, may have had some sway in that.
Who knows? Things may change again, and the weekend’s games (including the Friday-night Bowling Green-Northern Illinois game) will impact the slim chance Oregon still holds of sliding into a BCS game. If that happens, it turns the league’s bowl prospects upside down.
December 3, 2013 at 8:23 PM
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota announced Tuesday he’s returning for his junior season next year at Oregon, and it’s a splash of terrific news for the Ducks.
It was a relatively dreary November for Oregon, which first got manhandled at Stanford, then lost badly at Arizona, then needed some last-minute heroics to upend Oregon State. If the Beavers had held on to win — they were a huge underdog — there might have been a mini-revolt in Eugene.
Mariota’s announcement, along with the news that his all-league center, Hroniss Grasu, is coming back, is huge news for Oregon, and not only because Mariota is a Heisman-level player. There’s some doubt about Oregon’s reinforcements at that position, 2013 backups Jake Rodrigues and Jeff Lockie, and in any case, Oregon would have been entering 2014 with both of them as major questionmarks.
There’s also true freshman Damion Hobbs (6-2, 195), who could be the answer eventually. But again, he would have represented a completely unproven commodity entering 2014. If there’s doubt among Oregon coaches about capable depth at that position, they can address it before signing day, while Mariota comes back stronger next year.
While there was considerable sentiment he should leave — he’s projected as a top-15 NFL pick — I think he might be making the smart decision. He’s only 20 years old and can surely use more physical development and seasoning.
His move mirrors a recent trend in the Pac-12 — of veteran quarterbacks projected high in the draft sticking around for another year — and if you’re a fan of the league, you should like it. Jake Locker did it, Andrew Luck did it, and so did Matt Barkley. It worked great for the first two, and hopefully will for Mariota as well.
Now the focus turns to UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, both of whom have eligibility left (Hundley two years) but could leave.
December 2, 2013 at 11:55 AM
The conference this morning announced its 2013 all-conference football team, linked here.
– The choice of Arizona State’s Will Sutton over Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy as defensive player of the year was a bit of a surprise. For at least the early part of the season, there was conjecture that Sutton had gained too much weight in the off-season and was less than the player he was in 2012. Statistics are only part of the story, but Murphy had 19.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, compared to Sutton’s 10.5 and three.
– I think you could make a case for ASU’s Taylor Kelly (the second-team QB choice) for first team over Marcus Mariota, because Mariota had a late-season slide, undoubtedly related to his knee injury. But my sense is that Mariota was playing at such a celestial level before a mediocre November, that it would be unfair to dock him too much for shaky games against Stanford, Arizona and OSU.
– Ben Gardner’s selection to the first team on defense is an amazing show of respect from the league’s coaches. Gardner was announced as out for the season late in October with a chest injury, when Stanford still have four games left. That’s a full third of the games. Reminds me of 1997, when UW running back Rashaan Shehee made first-team, despite having a knee injury that sidelined him for the month of November.
– Deone Bucannon is Washington State’s initial first-team selection since 2007, a nice honor and yet a reflection of the bleak times the program has been through.
– Not too hard to figure out what makes the Stanford offense tick. The Cardinal had David Yankey on the first-team offensive line, and three others on the second unit. That’s a pretty good nucleus toward a successful offense — but it’s also an indication that the Cardinal needs to get better on the perimeter (I think they know that).
November 30, 2013 at 9:39 PM
Still some dominoes to fall in the bowl picture with regard to Pac-12 teams, because Stanford and Arizona State have to meet for the Pac-12 title next week. We know now that Arizona State will host that game, courtesy of its dominating performance Saturday night at home against Arizona. The Sun Devils not only get to play on their home field, but they come into it the hottest team in the conference and have the revenge motive for what was essentially a blowout loss in October at Stanford.
Funny, but that’s a similar scenario to a year ago for the Pac-12 title game, when Stanford had just blown out UCLA the previous week and was playing the Bruins for the championship. The difference is, the first games were at much different points on the schedule, and the game is at Sun Devil Stadium rather than Stanford.
From here, it looks like the UCLA domination of USC propels the Bruins to the Sun Bowl, and if that’s the case, it would probably point Washington to the Fight Hunger in San Francisco against BYU (last week, a Sun Bowl official told the Times the Huskies could figure into their picture, but that appears to have diminished with the Bruins’ victory). UCLA goes to an attractive 9-3, with USC falling to 9-4. The Sun doesn’t want the Trojans after last year’s memorably poor trip there, so it makes sense USC goes to the Vegas now.
Here’s how I see it (subject to the whim of bowl directors, obviously). Possible that a Stanford victory over ASU would put the Sun Devils into the Alamo rather than Oregon, because they might travel better from a shorter distance:
Rose: Stanford/Arizona State.
Holiday: Stanford/Arizona State.
Las Vegas: USC.
Fight Hunger: Washington.
New Mexico: Washington State.
This projects Oregon State (6-6, 4-5) and Arizona (7-4, 4-5) attempting to go outside Pac-12 affiliations to bowls whose leagues can’t fill their obligations. Among bowls that look to have such openings are the Pinstripe in New York, Heart of Dallas, Independence in Shreveport, Little Caesars in Detroit and Beef O’Brady’s in St. Petersburg.
About the author
Trending with readers