The Ducks, Cardinal and Huskies have all been impressive early.
Oregon seemed to be the frontrunner in the preseason to host the first-ever Pac-12 Championship Game, but suspensions and a double-digit loss to SEC-power LSU in the opener raised questions. However, Chip Kelly’s Ducks have bounced back with three blowout wins in which they scored at least 56 points in each game.
Backup quarterback is leading the charge at Washington State
By Mitch Light
You can remove the name Paul Wulff from the list of coaches on the hot seat. For now, at least.
Wulff entered his fourth season at Washington State, his alma mater, with a 2–25 record in league games and an overall mark of 5–32. And the Cougars weren’t just losing — they were getting pounded, with regularity. Of those 32 losses, 15 came by at least 30 points. Washington State, simply put, was beyond bad.
The Cougs showed some signs of progress late last season, most notably in a 31–14 win at Oregon State in mid-November, but it was clear that Wulff needed to win some games in ’11 to save his job.
Consider his job saved. Washington State is now 3–1 after rallying from 10 down in the final minutes to knock off Colorado, 31–27, in Boulder on Saturday. The Cougs haven’t exactly faced a grueling slate — they own wins over Idaho State, UNLV and CU — but when you have averaged 1.7 wins over the previous three seasons, any win is a good win.
“Honestly, I think this was the best win of my life,” cornerback Daniel Simmons said after the game. “We’re moving in the right direction, and we’re very excited about what we’re going to do We kept working and kept believing, and that’s what it’s about. We worked so hard over the summer and this is the end result.”
The Cougars’ hot start is even more impressive when you factor in that they have been without starting quarterback Jeff Tuel for the last three games. Considered to be one of the few true Pac-12-quality players on the Washington State offense, Tuel suffered a broken clavicle in the opener against Idaho State. With Tuel sidelined, Marshall Lobbestael, who had six career starts heading into this season, has been sensational running the Cougars’ attack. He has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,335 yards with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions. In the win at Colorado last week, Lobbestael threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the final three minutes.
“Practice pays off, and you have to practice these types of situations like we’ve practiced these past two weeks and how we practiced fourth quarters,” Lobbestael said following the game.
Tuel has been cleared to return to action, but Wulff indicated earlier in the week that Lobbestael will remain the starter — for now.
“We’re just going to give (Tuel) some quality reps and let him work himself back into shape,” the coach said.
Lobbestael expects Tuel to regain the starting assignment in the near future. And the fifth-year senior sounds like he is more than okay with the move, when and if it happens.
“Wait until you see this offense with Jeff,” Lobbestael said. “I’m not ragging on what I’ve done … but I’m excited to see what he can do this year. Everyone else should be too. That’s all I’m saying. I’m just going to keep preparing like I have been and my goal is just to be ready to play, whether that’s the first snap or second or third string.”
Whether it’s Tuel or Lebbestael running the show, Washington State will need to scratch and claw to get to six wins and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2006. This week, the Cougars are a 3.5-point underdog at UCLA, one of the weaker teams in the league. There is a chance that Washington State will be favored only one more time the rest of the season, when struggling Oregon State visits Pullman on Oct. 22.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Keith Price is getting a lot of pub at Washington — and deservedly so — but tailback Chris Polk has also been a huge part of the Huskies’ success on offense. The one-time USC commitment has rushed for 100 yards in four of the five games this season, with a high of 189 yards on 29 carries in UWs’ 31–14 win at Utah.
• Stanford has won 12 straight games dating back to last October, and all but two of the Cardinal’s wins during that stretch have come by at least 10 points.
• Stanford has only committed one turnover all season. That ties Northwestern for the fewest in the nation.
• USC has given up 40-plus points in back to back games for the first time in school history.
• Oregon State has only scored seven touchdowns this season. Only UAB (six) and FAU (five) have scored fewer.
• USC’s Robert Woods leads the Pac-12 with 55 receptions, 23 more than the league’s No. 2 receiver, Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton.
• Arizona is the only team in the league that has given up over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving. Opponents are averaging 7.3 yards per play against the Cats’ defense, by far the most in the Pac-12.
• Opponents are only converting 23.9 percent on third down against Arizona State. That number leads the nation.
QB play still a strength for Huskies without Locker
By Mitch Light
He was one of the most decorated players in school history. The face of Washington football for four seasons, Jake Locker became the first quarterback from the UW ever selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Locker’s gone, yet quarterback is still a position of strength for the Huskies. The man to thank for that is Keith Price, a sophomore from Compton, Calif. In his first season as the starter, Price has guided the Huskies to a 3–1 start, with the only loss coming in a 51–38 decision at Nebraska in a game in which he threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns. For the season, Price has completed 75-of-112 passes (67.0 percent) for 983 yards with 14 touchdowns (the most in the nation) and only three interceptions. Those numbers are good enough to rank him No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 9 in the nation with a passing efficiency rating of 176.58.
Price was at his best in last Saturday’s win over California in the Pac-12 opener, completing 19-of-25 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has completed at least 57 percent of his attempts in each game and has thrown at least three touchdowns in each game.
Last season, Locker completed only 55 percent of his passes and threw for at least three touchdowns only twice.
This isn’t to say that Price is a better player than Locker — though surely some Washington fans are making that argument — but it’s clear that the Huskies are getting more production from the quarterback position with Price running the show.
“He’s playing phenomenal football for us right now,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Nebraska game. “He’s been lights-out. He’s got an innate ability to extend plays and keep his vision and find open receivers downfield.”
Price is thriving despite playing on two injured knees. He sprained his right knee in the second quarter of a Week 1 win against Eastern Washington and sprained the left knee against Nebraska. It hasn’t hindered him in the passing game too much, but he hasn’t been able to use his legs as much as planned.
In four games, Price has netted only 12 yards rushing.
“The only thing mechanically is just not being able to really run,” Sarkisian said last week. “He’s still quick and elusive. We see that in the pocket. We see it in some suddenness on the about 6-, and 7-yard runs. He just hasn’t been able to open up and go like the way he can.”
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Oregon State is 0–3 for the first time since 1996. The Beavers were 0–3 12 times from 1972 through 1990.
• UCLA completed only seven passes in its 22–19 win over Oregon State. It is the fifth time since the start of last season that the Bruins have completed fewer than 10 passes. They are 3–2 in those games, with wins over Houston, Texas and Oregon State and losses to Kansas State and Washington.
• USC is last in the Pac-12 and 113th in the nation in turnover margin (-1.5 per game). The Trojans have forced three turnovers — only seven teams have forced fewer.
• When not playing LSU, Oregon is averaging 600 yards per game and 9.0 yards per play. The Ducks averaged 4.1 yards per play against LSU.
• Arizona has allowed teams to score on 20 of 22 trips inside the red zone, with 16 touchdowns and four field goals.
• Colorado ranks 118th in the nation with 9.5 penalties per game.
• Despite playing only three games, the Stanford defense leads the nation in yardage lost on sacks. The Cardinal have recorded 14.0 sacks for a combined 114 yards lost.
• Washington ranks last in the Pac-12 in passing defense by more than 60 yards per game. The Huskies are giving up 327.5 yards per game; Stanford is next at 265.7 per game.
This isn't the first time college football has gone through major changes.
This article on college football realignment originally appeared in our 1998 college football annual. As the college football landscape continues to go through realignment and the whispers of superconferences are still heard (despite the PAC-12's decision to not expand right now), we can learn about the current state of college football by looking back at its history.
The Big 12 was on its deathbed earlier this week, but has somehow survived for the second year in a row. Thanks to the Pac-12’s decision not to expand and add Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech, the Big 12 will continue to exist – for now.
The Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee Volunteers as UF's Chris Rainey amassed 233 all-purpose yards, including this 83-yard reception for a touchdown midway through the third quarter. The final score in "The Swamp" was Florida 33, Tennessee 23.
Photo by Mark Langello for Athlon Sports
Notre Dame's Michael Floyd Catch
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Michael Floyd catches a pass in Notre Dame's victory over Michigan State.
Photo by Layne Murdoch for Athlon Sports
Clemson's Dabo Swinney Celebrates
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Head coach Dabo Swinney celebrates a Clemson touchdown during the Tigers' 38-24 victory over the Auburn Tigers at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, SC.
Photo by Brad Schloss for Athlon Sports
Kansas' Jordan Webb
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University of Kansas quarterback Jordan Webb eludes a Georgia Tech defender in Saturdays game in Atlanta. Webb was 11 for 19 for 148 yards passing and added another 15 yards rushing on three carries. Webb's Jayhawks were beaten by the Yellow Jackets 66-24 at Bobby Dowd Stadium.
Photo by Al Kooistra for Athlon Sports
Maryland's DJ Adams Flies
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Maryland running back DJ Adams returned from a one-game suspension, and rushed 12 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns against West Virginia. The Mountaineers prevailed in the end, however, beating the Terrapins 37-31.
Photo by Bruce Schwartzman for Athlon Sports
North Carolina's Gio Bernard Runs
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North Carolina's Giovanni Bernard had 102 yards rushing on 12 carries Saturday to help his Tar Heels defeat the Virginia Cavaliers 28-17.
Photo by Margaret Bowles for Athlon Sports
Ole Miss's Brandon Bolden Leaps
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Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden hurdles Vanderbilt CB Trey Wilson. Vanderbilt beat Ole Miss 30-7 for it's third straight win in head coach James Franklin's debut season.
Photo by Danny Murphy for Athlon Sports
Washington Huskies' Chris Polk
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Washington RB Chris Polk eludes the Nebraska defense for a short gain. The Huskies couldn't stop the Cornhuskers in the end, however, as Nebraska beat Washington 51-38.
Photo by Jay Biggerstaff for Athlon Sports
Tennessee's Tyle Bray Gets Sacked
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Florida defensive end Lerentee McCray made Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray's day a little worse with this fourth-quarter sack. Bray and his Vols were only able to muster 279 total yards of offense for the game and he also was sacked three times by the Gators' defense.
Photo by Mark Langello for Athlon Sports
Texas Longhorns' Fozzy Whittaker
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Texas's Fozzy Whittaker tries to break from a UCLA defender. Whittaker scored two touchdowns to help his Longhorns to a 49-20 road victory over the Bruins.
We knew what Oregon State was missing. We were aware that the Beavers would be without arguably the most exciting offensive player in school history (Jacquizz Rodgers) and without a player considered by many to be the top defensive lineman in the Pac-10 in 2010 (Stephen Paea). And we understood that James Rodgers, one of the most versatile playmakers in college football over the past few years, would be out indefinitely while recovering from a knee injury.
Still, we expected Oregon State to be good. Not great. But pretty good — as in fourth in the very tough Pac-12 North, with a predicted conference record of 4–5 and an overall mark of 6–6.
Why the optimism? Mike Riley. The Beavers’ veteran head coach always seems to do more with less, somehow getting his team to remain a factor in the league race.
So when it was time to make our predictions, we simply gave Riley and the Beavers the benefit of the doubt, assuming they would find a way to thrive despite the loss of some great players.
Well, look who’s 0–2. It’s still early, but the signs aren’t good for Oregon State, which opened the season with a stunning loss to FCS foe Sacramento State (which lost the following week to Southern Utah) and a 35–0 defeat at Wisconsin.
It might not be time to panic in Corvallis — after all, the 2008 Beavers recovered from an 0–2 start to finish 9–4 — but it’s hard to find many expected wins when you take a look at the final 10 games on the Beavers’ slate.
So what’s the problem? Well, the offense has struggled to get going, even with the emergence of true freshman Malcolm Agnew, who rushed for 223 yards against Sacramento State before missing the Wisconsin game with a hamstring injury. And the quarterback situation is a mess. Strong-armed Ryan Katz, the 2010 starter, was pulled in favor of Sean Mannion during the Wisconsin game. On Tuesday afternoon, Riley announced that Mannion will start against UCLA, but both quarterbacks will likely play.
The numbers aren’t horrible defensively, but the Badgers did give up 29 points to an FCS school and have really struggled against the pass. Opposing quarterbacks are 40-of-57 for 485 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Those numbers have resulted in a national ranking of 116th in passing efficiency defense. It hasn’t helped that senior cornerback Brandon Hardin, one of only three returning starters on defense, has yet to play due to a shoulder injury.
Riley, to his credit, isn’t panicking. He, better than most, understands that there is plenty of time to get his team turned in the right direction. Oregon State has had a winning record in six of eight seasons since Riley returned to Corvallis despite having a combined record of 15–17 in the month of September. Clearly, his teams have a knack for improving as the season progresses.
“I really have hopes for this team,” the coach said after his team was shut out by Wisconsin. “I think there was a lot of stuff today, particularly defensively that was better. So we can build on that. Offensively, I know we can do better.”
They better do better, or Oregon State could be headed for back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the late 1990s.
AROUND THE PAC-12
• Washington State is 2–0 for the first time since 2005 after rolling to wins of 64–21 over Idaho State and 59–7 over UNLV. The level of competition has been very poor, but it’s clear that Paul Wulff’s program is making some progress. The Cougars went 2–10 last season, but ended the year with a shocking 31–14 win at Oregon State and a competitive 35–28 loss to rival Washington in the Apple Cup. The win over UNLV was especially noteworthy because Washington State had to play without quarterback Jeff Tuel, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken collarbone. Senior Marshall Lobbestael, who had three starts as a redshirt freshman and three as a sophomore, stepped in and completed 24-of-32 for 361 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
• Colorado has already given up 13 plays of 20-plus yards, the most in the Pac-12.
• Washington’s Keith Price has attempted 25 passes in each of his first two games. He completed 17 for 102 yards against Eastern Washington and 18 for 315 yards against Hawaii. His yards per attempt jumped from 4.1 to 12.6 in one week.
• Not much went well for Arizona in last Thursday’s trip to Oklahoma State, but the Wildcats, who played without Juron Criner, did get some production from junior Dan Buckner. A transfer from Texas and former big-time recruit, Buckner caught 10 passes for 142 yards and scored a touchdown.
• Stanford has given up one offensive touchdown in two games, and it came in the final minute of a 44–14 win at Duke. The Cardinal’s opponents have converted only 6-of-30 third down attempts.
Alabama's Mark Barron leads the nation's top secondary.
They're the teams within the team - those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.
Whether it's the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball - these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.