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.
November 30, 2013 at 4:47 PM
Unbelievable finish to the Auburn-Alabama Iron Bowl moments ago — one second (literally) Alabama’s trying a 57-yard field goal to win it at the wire, the next the Tigers’ Chris Davis is running back the miss from deep in the end zone all the way back for a 34-28 all-timer over the Tide.
So now what happens to the BCS? ‘Bama had been No. 1, Florida State second, Ohio State third and Auburn fourth. Does Ohio State automatically jump into the national-title game if it can beat Michigan State next week in the Big Ten title game? Or do you give more weight to a one-loss Auburn team that just took down the program of a recent semi-dynasty and leap the undefeated Buckeyes, putting Auburn in position to get to the championship if it can beat South Carolina next week in the SEC title game?
It certainly won’t be a slam-dunk for the Buckeyes to win the votes. The cachet of the SEC is huge after seven straight national titles and there’s also this disquieting stat: Entering Saturday’s game at Michigan, the teams the Buckeyes had beaten on the road this year had a combined 1-29 record in their conference games. And although it’s hard to fault a win in a heated rivalry game, Ohio State needed a failed two-point conversion to survive Michigan.
Let the campaigning begin in Ohio and Alabama. You just knew the last year of the BCS wouldn’t go easily.
November 30, 2013 at 9:18 AM
They’ve been playing the Civil War football game in Oregon since 1894, one of the oldest rivalries in the nation. I’m not sure they’ve ever done it any better than Friday evening’s game, a 36-35 Oregon victory.
It had six lead changes, four in the fourth quarter, the final one on Josh Huff’s touchdown catch from Marcus Mariota with only half a minute left.
I saw a 30-29 Beaver victory at Autzen Stadium in 1971, but I think this was probably better than that one. In 1998, OSU won a 44-41 double-overtime game in Corvallis – that was the one where the fans spilled prematurely onto the field in celebration, only to have to retract it when a penalty was called – but that was only a 5-6 OSU team and Oregon had four losses. This was higher-quality stuff, and ironically, it came after both teams had entered the game on obvious down notes.
The Ducks have lately ripped the Beavers’ hearts out, winning six in a row. The first two of those, in 2008 at OSU (a 65-38 Oregon walkover) and a memorable 37-33, Thursday-night game in 2009 in Eugene, kept the Beavers out of the Rose Bowl.
Hard to say what this one means beyond the excellence itself, but it gets Oregon to 10 victories, and OSU’s loss could have a slight benefit to Washington State’s bowl quest. The Beavers have five straight losses, and while this one was certainly creditable, it drops them into identical 6-6 and 4-5 records with WSU, and the Cougar fan base is relatively excited about the prospect of returning to a bowl game for the first time in a decade, giving WSU more appeal there to bowl execs.
November 27, 2013 at 6:12 PM
The final, (almost) full week of action, spiced by the rivalries:
Washington State (plus 14.5) at Washington — To me, the intriguing matchup is WSU’s offense with Connor Halliday, who has been very good lately, against a tough UW pass defense. Do the Huskies get the pass rush that Utah couldn’t last week? If not, the Cougars could make this very interesting. But I think the Huskies have too many weapons for the Cougar defense to manage. Washington 37, WSU 20.
Oregon State (plus 21.5) at Oregon — Unlike some recent years, the buzz for this is at a low ebb. Both teams have motivation to bounce back, but the Ducks have a lot more in their arsenal, especially since the Beavers can’t seem to run the ball. Oregon 41, OSU 17.
Colorado (plus 16.5) at Utah — Seems like Colorado has more to fight for here, with the Utes having just fallen from the bowl picture. There can’t be a lot of anticipation for this in Salt Lake City. Utah 31, Colorado 21.
Notre Dame (plus 14) at Stanford — This strikes me as a lot of points, with the Cardinal between the Big Game and the Pac-12 title showdown next week with ASU — especially with Notre Dame coming in at 8-3. Stanford 26, Notre Dame 19.
UCLA (plus 3.5) at USC — Bruins have back-to-back, huge emotional games, having just played ASU and now meeting the Trojans. It’s tough to buck USC’s amazing run under Ed Orgeron. Might he win the permanent job if his team wins here? USC 27, UCLA 20.
Arizona (plus 12.5) at Arizona State — ASU faces the same task as UCLA in needing to bounce back quickly from an emotional effort. I think the Wildcats give them some worries, especially in a series that’s been very unpredictable. ASU 34, Arizona 28.
Last week — 4-2 (5-1 versus the spread). Season — 62-23 (43-31 versus the spread).
November 27, 2013 at 4:42 PM
Didn’t get to this Tuesday when it was released, but it shouldn’t go unmentioned. Here’s the all-conference all-academic football team.
There’s no doubt that college football at the highest level is big business, but we shouldn’t forget that these guys are doing double-duty, and the list attached is doing it especially well. I marvel at the athlete who can juggle a sport and still pull down a 3.0-plus GPA. So, kudos.
November 27, 2013 at 11:05 AM
Former UW quarterback Steve Pelluer and former Cougar linebacker Scott Pelluer will be available to answer questions about the 2013 Apple Cup, their memories of playing in the big game and more during a live chat at noon Wednesday.
November 26, 2013 at 12:53 PM
Tuesday marked the last Pac-12 football coaches teleconference with a full roster. Next week’s will feature only the two championship-game coaches, David Shaw and Todd Graham. Some tidbits from Tuesday’s call:
‘Cats coach Rich Rodriguez, referring to the acrobatic, batted interception of Marcus Mariota Saturday in Tucson that ignited Arizona’s victory, said, “That’s a play I don’t even know if we could have thought about making last year. We practiced it in August and three months later, it comes back to being a big play for us.”
ASU has its Senior Day this week, in a game with Arizona for the right to host the Pac-12 championship next week, and Todd Graham says, “This is going to be my toughest Senior Day.”
Among other things, he says, “We’ve gone from a 2.3 team GPA to 2.8, and that’s not easy to do with a hundred guys. It has not been easy. There’s been a lot of straining and training and some conflict along the way. But I’m extremely close to these kids.
“We talked today, and want to have two Senior Days – one this week for the Territorial Cup, and then one here next week for the Pac-12 championship.”
Sonny Dykes, in answer to a question about speculation over staff changes, said, “If that’s what’s going to happen, it needs to happen as quickly as possible, just so everybody has time to get adjusted and we can figure it all out.”
Dykes cited depth problems exacerbated by injuries and a lack of veteran leadership as among the Bears’ problems. But he added, “There’s no excuse for us having the kind of year we had.”
Mark Helfrich said he had no problem with the outsized expectations at Oregon, saying, “When I took this job (I thought), ‘I want to be at a place like that.’ We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. That’s really hard.”
As for the ill-considered comments of a couple of players last week that the Rose Bowl didn’t hold great appeal for them, he said, “It’s completely our fault (for them) saying things that don’t represent anybody around here. It was part ignorance, part context, part expectations. That didn’t represent any more than two guys who were frustrated in a context, and I think it diminishes Arizona’s victory to say it did. And it didn’t really affect our team.”
Mike Riley lamented the “horrible” run defense by OSU that allowed Washington to trample the Beavers to the tune of 530 rushing yards, saying, “That was as out of character as I’ve seen us play, ever. I shouldn’t say I’m at a loss. We just have to coach better and play better than we did.”
The Cardinal hosts Notre Dame Saturday, bringing to mind a failed, goal-line thrust last year at South Bend by Stepfan Taylor that denied Stanford a possible victory.
“Last year we didn’t get it across the goal-line and I wasn’t a smart enough coach,” Shaw said. “This year in that situation (Utah and USC), we threw it, and I’m not a smart enough coach. It’s all about the results.”
The uncertainty over QB Travis Wilson’s head injury and his career going forward in football “puts us between a rock and a hard spot,” says Kyle Whittingham, referring to projecting a quarterback for next year. “We’ve got some decisions to make. That’s a big problem. I can’t give you an answer right now.”
To the question of whether there’s something to be said for handling success better after beating Stanford Oct. 12, Whittingham scoffed, “There’s something to be said about not losing your quarterback the next week.” Wilson was troubled by a hand injury before the head injury that ultimately sidelined him and sent the Utes toward their current 4-7 state.
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