For the 45th year in a row, Athlon Sports will release its in-depth preseason preview annual complete with coaching changes, behind the scenes features, scouting reports from within the locker room, pages of recruiting rankings, and most importantly, in-depth predictions and previews.
The addition of Utah and Colorado has added two large states for talent to the west coast conference’s footprint. Both states produce quality athletes that most Pac-10 schools have already been recruiting for years. Colorado will likely need some time – and maybe some new facilities and dedication from its alumni base – before it begins to assert itself on the recruiting trail.
But Utah should see an immediate bump in “clout” on the recruiting trail. While the Utes didn’t land in the top 25 nationally, they did finish in the top half of the new Pac-12. With a strong in-state base, Utah should be able to use better recruiting budgets to dip into talent rich areas like California, and the rest of the Pac-12 footprint, more effectively.
Editor's Note: A nationally rated recruit is a anyone who received at least one Athlon Consensus 100 vote. There were 269 in 2011.
2011 Pac-12 Recruiting Team Rankings:
1. USC Trojans (30 signees – 6 AC100)
So much for NCAA violations slowing the Trojan machine on the recruiting trail. So how can a team with 10 less scholarships per season sign 30 prospects? First, nine will count back a year (2010) as they enrolled early. Second, USC only enrolled 14 new players last fall, giving them some extra space for this group. And Lane Kiffin will need it.
Kiffin signed 15 nationally rated recruits – including the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver (George Farmer) and two of the top ten quarterback prospects in AC100 near-misses Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Six offensive lineman and another AC100 wideout in Victor Blackwell, add tremendous depth to the offense. Four highly-touted linebackers and six elite defensive lineman replenishes the recently thinned-out defensive front.
A trio of athletes will help bolster one backfield – whether that is in the secondary or offensive skill corps.
After a long run of national success under Pete Carroll, Kiffin landed 22 of 30 recruits from inside the home state of California.
Nationally rated recruits:
No. 6 George Farmer, WR (Gardena, Calif.)
No. 35 Greg Townsend Jr, DE (Beverly Hills, Calif.)
No. 64 Marqise Lee, ATH (Gardena, Calif.)
No. 70 Cyrus Hobbi, OL (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
No. 71 Victor Blackwell, WR (Santa Ana, Calif.)
No. 99 Antwaun Woods, DT (Woodland Hills, Calif.)
No. 103 Max Wittek, QB (Santa Ana, Calif.)
No. 108 Cody Kessler, QB (Bakersfield, Calif.)
No. 121 Amir Carlisle, RB (Sunnyvale, Calif.)
No. 124 Aundrey Walker, OL (Cleveland, Ohio)
No. 130 Tre Madden, LB (Mission Viejo, Calif.)
No. 133 Lamar Dawson, LB (Danville, Ky.)
No. 141 Christian Heyward, DT (San Diego, Calif.)
No. 183 Anthony Sarao, LB (Absecon, N.J.)
No. 266 Javorius Allen, ATH (Tallahassee, Fla.)
2. Oregon Ducks (23 signees – 3 AC100)
There may not be a single team in the nation that has elevated its national “recruiting stock” more in the last decade than the Ducks. Certainly, having great people in place is key – and a few shekels from Phil Knight hasn’t hurt either – but this team was not recruiting at this level just eight to ten years ago.
The Ducks’ new clout was no more apparent than on NSD when longtime USC verbal DeAnthony Thomas switched to Oregon. Of the seven nationally rated recruits in this class, only one came from in-state and only two hail from California. Chip Kelly used Arizona, Texas, Iowa, Ohio and Florida to pull elite level talents.
With four wideouts, two running backs and a trio of versatile athletes, Kelly’s dynamic fast-paced offensive attack is well-stocked with future stars. Thomas and wideout Devon Blackmon are open-field dynamos who are virtually impossible to stop in space. It will be interesting to see where AC100 athlete Colt Lyerla lands. Tight end, defensive end, outside linebacker, wide receiver and H-back are all in the mix – a good problem to have with a 6’5”, 230-pounder.
Otherwise, great offensive line (5) and linebacker (5) classes make-up the rest of this outstanding class.
No. 5 DeAnthony Thomas, ATH (Los Angeles, Calif.)
No. 39 Colt Lyerla, ATH (Hillsboro, Ore.)
No. 58 Devon Blackmon, WR (Fontana, Calif.)
No. 117 Andre Yruretagoyena, OL (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
No. 122 Christian French, ATH (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
No. 126 Anthony Wallace, LB (Dallas, Texas)
No. 136 Tacoi Sumler, WR (Miami, Fla.)
3. Cal Golden Bears (22 signees – 3 AC100)
One of the most underrated recruiting jobs of this season was Jeff Tedford and the Cal Golden Bears. Three AC100 talents, and 11 nationally rated recuits top a deep and talented haul for a team that struggled mightily on the field in 2010. Five stellar defensive line signees – including four nationally rated players – add tremendous size and depth to the front line. A three-man running back class should provide the next in what has been a very long line of incredibly productive tailbacks at Cal (headed by AC100 talent Brendon Bigelow). The secondary also got plenty of focus as at least four, and potentially six, new faces slated to play in the defensive backfield.
No. 45 Viliami Moala, DT, Cal (Sacramento, Calif.)
No. 87 Brendon Bigelow, RB (Fresno, Calif.)
No. 90 Todd Barr, DT (Lakewood, Calif.)
No. 137 Brennan Scarlett, DE (Portland, Ore.)
No. 143 Avery Walls, S (McDonough, Ga.)
No. 145 Stefan McClure, DB (Vista, Calif.)
No. 162 Mustafa Jalil, DT (San Diego, Calif.)
No. 169 Maurice Harris, WR (Greensboro, N.C.)
No. 190 Jason Gibson, LB (Gardena, Calif.)
No. 230 Jordan Rigsbee, OL (Chico, Calif.)
No. 232 Kyle Boehm, QB (San Jose, Calif.)
4. Stanford Cardinal (19 signees – 2 AC100)
It will be interesting to see just how much Jim Harbaugh meant to Stanford recruiting. In a short period of time, he elevated Stanford to national recruiting power. This class, with nationally rated stars from Georgia, Florida and Colorado, is once again a diverse collection of new faces from across the fruited plains. Recruiting nationally is nothing new for the smart kids from Palo Alto, but Harbaugh took it to another level. This class used 13 different states with no more than five players coming from any one state (CA). Stanford closed well and posted an excellent class, but the true barometer will be in 2012.
No. 69 James Vaughters, LB (Tucker, Ga.)
No. 88 Wayne Lyons, CB (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
No. 179 Kelsey Young, RB (Norco, Calif.)
No. 228 Brendon Austin, OL (Parker, Colo.)
5. Washington Huskies (23 signees – 2 AC100)
Steve Sarkisian is to Washington what Kelly, Harbaugh and Kiffin have been to their respective programs. He immediately upgraded the standing of the program in the minds of recruits everywhere. Most importantly, however, he has locked down the Evergreen State. All four nationally rated recruits – and five others – from in the state of Washington signed with the Huskies. Keeping in-state talent at home will be key for the future of Sarkisian’s squad. This class is long on offensive skill players: two QBs, two RBs, an elite TE and four WRs.
No. 33 Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE (Gig Harbor, Wash.)
No. 57 Kasen Williams, WR (Sammamish, Wash.)
No. 229 James Sample, DB (Sacramento, Calif.)
No. 235 Danny Shelton, DT (Auburn, Wash.)
No. 268 Bsihop Sankey, RB (Spokane, Wash.)
6. Utah Utes (19 signees)
Texas, California and Utah supplied 18 of the 19 signees, led by seven skill players.
No. 211 Harvey Langi, RB (South Jordan, Utah)
7. Oregon State Beavers (24 signees)
Deep class headlined by massive eight-man defensive end class.
8. UCLA Bruins (16 signees – 1 AC100)
Small class is built mostly of offensive prospects, including four O-lineman.
No. 97 Brett Hundley, QB (Chandler, Ariz.)
9. Arizona Wildcats (21 signees)
Not a lot of star power, but a versatile and balanced collection.
No. 212 Ka’Deem Carey, RB (Oro Valley, Ariz.)
No. 269 Rob Hankins, LB (Dallas, Texas)
10. Washington State Cougars (27 signees)
The second biggest class in the league adds depth to every position on the two-deep.
11. Arizona State Sun Devils (14 signees)
Quality, not quantity, is the way to describe this class for Dennis Erickson.
No. 206 Micahel Bercovici, QB, ASU
12. Colorado Buffaloes (19 signees)
Quality defensive back class, but Buffs have a long way to go to compete in new Pac-12.
Thomas returns to lead another explosive Duck attack.
Athlon Sports is in the predictions business. We are currently America’s oldest preseason College Football publication (1967) and have been the most accurate NCAA football predictor over the last five years. With this in mind, and the finale of the 2010 football season quickly approaching, Athlon felt the urge to look ahead to the 2011 season.
Here are “The Way Too Early Predictions for 2011” in the Pac-12.
Much like the Big Ten, the Pac-10 will go through monumental offseason changes — starting with its name. The Pac-12 will be the new name of college football’s premier West Coast conference. It may take some time to get used to calling it the Pac-12, but unlike the Big Ten, it shouldn’t take anytime to learn the divisions.
The conference will be broken along geographic lines into North and South divisions with rivalries completely sustained. That is the good news for the league. The bad? National title contender Oregon should once again be the favorite to top the league. Quarterback Darron Thomas and Heisman finalist LaMichael James return to what should once again be an explosive offense. Fixing some holes in the receiving corps and along the offensive line will be key, but Oregon is in reloading, not rebuilding mode.
The front seven of the Ducks’ defense will take the biggest hit. Replacing Casey Matthews, Kenny Rowe and Brandon Bair will be tough. Depth in the secondary should help as a lot of talented names return with plenty of experience.
Much of Stanford’s 2011 season will be decided at some point in the next few months. Quarterback Andrew Luck and head coach Jim Harbaugh could both be back in Palo Alto next fall, resulting in a serious threat to Oregon’s conference supremacy. However, it’s also possible that both will be gone next year, and with a revamped offensive line, the Cardinal could struggle to keep up with the Ducks.
Oregon State will get a second year with strong-armed quarterback Ryan Katz. A solid offensive line and great running game should help produce one of the league’s top offenses. Replacing stud noseguard Stephen Paea will be incredibly difficult. Washington has been recruiting extremely well and should have plenty of young talent, but whether they can develop quickly enough to contend in 2011 is a large mystery.
In short, the North Division could look a lot like 2010 again. Chip Kelly and his Oregon Ducks have the inside track on a third straight conference championship.
Erickson has ASU fans looking up for 2011.
In the South Division, the traditional powers could be taking a back seat to a team that has won a total of six conference games over the last two years (remember, Pac-10 teams played nine games per year). Arizona State should return largely intact — as in 20 of 22 starters potentially. Special teams might be the only issue Dennis Erickson will need to address in the offseason. He will have a stout front seven, a solid rushing attack, two quarterbacks with starting experience and positive momentum after two high-scoring wins to close the season over UCLA and Arizona. It might be crazy, but ASU could be the favorite in the South next fall.
That leaves the USC Trojans. They still have the most talented starting 22 in the league, but depth was a serious issue in 2010. Until the scholarship limitations are lifted, depth will continue to be a major hindrance. However, third-year quarterback Matt Barkley will have an embarrassment of riches to work with on offense next season, and one has to think that the elder Kiffin should be able to improve the Trojan defense. The Men of Troy have the potential to win this league but have failed to live up to their recruiting hype for a few years. Fans and media will give the new staff a pass in 2010, but probably not in 2011.
Utah and Colorado begin their Pac-12 tenures facing an uphill battle. The Buffs are in major rebuilding mode with a new staff stepping into place while Utah will play the toughest schedule of its existence. A full BCS conference slate will test the depth of the former "mid-major" program in year one. Arizona is the wildcard. Replacing much of that defensive line will hurt, but quarterbacks Nick Foles and Matt Scott offer plenty of leadership on offense. Mike Stoops always seem to win some games he shouldn't — and lose some he shouldn't, too.
North Division Predictions (key losses):
1. Oregon: WR Jeff Maehl, RB LaMichael James*, OL Bo Thran, OL Jordan Holmes, OL C.E. Kaiser, DT Brandon Bair, LB Casey Matthews, DE/LB Kenny Rowe, LB Spencer Paysinger, CB Talmadge Jackson
2. Stanford: QB Andrew Luck*, FB/LB Owen Marecic, WR Ryan Whalen, TE Konrad Reuland, OL Andy Phillips, OL Chase Beeler*, OL James McGillicuddy, DT Sione Fua, S Delano Howell*
3. Oregon State: OL Alex Linnenkohl, DT Stephen Paea, CB James Dockery
4. Washington: QB Jake Locker, OL Cody Habben, OL Ryan Tolar, LB Mason Foster, Jermaine Kearse*
5. Cal: RB Shane Vareen*, DT Derrick Hill, DE Cameron Jordan, LB Mike Mohamed
6. Washington State
South Division Predictions:
1. Arizona State: DT Saia Falahola CB Omar Bolden*, K Thomas Weber, P Trevor Hankins,
2. USC: RB Allen Bradford, FB Stanley Havili, WR Ronald Johnson, OL Kris O’Dowd, OL Tyron Smith*, OL Butch Lewis, LB Malcolm Smith, LB Michael Morgan, CB Shareece Wright, DT Jurrell Casey*
3. Arizona: RB Nic Grigsby, OL Colin Baxter, OL Adam Grant, Juron Criner*, DE Brooks Reed, DE Rick Elmore, S Joe Perkins
4. Utah: RB Matt Asiata, RB Eddie Wide, OL Zane Taylor, CB Brandon Burton*, RS Shaky Smithson
5. UCLA: LB Akeem Ayers*, S Rahim Moore*, K Kai Forbath, LS Christian Yount
6. Colorado: OL Nate Solder, CB Jimmy Smith, CB Jalil Brown
* Underclassmen who could decide to enter the NFL Draft.
Athlon will be awarding postseason honors to each BCS conference in the country. Today we look at the Pac-10’s best for 2010.
For the sake of this exercise, the Heisman and Bednarik will function as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards. The Outland will be given to the offensive lineman of the year while the Lombardi will be given to the defensive lineman of the year. Two fictitious awards, the Adrian Peterson Freshman of the Year honor and the Desmond Howard return specialist of the year award, will be given as well.
Heisman Trophy (MVP/POY): Andrew Luck, Stanford
A huge case can be made for Oregon tailback LaMichael James, but the quarterback position is dramatically more important and influential. And Luck was the league’s best by far. He completed 70-percent of his passes and led the league in passer efficiency (166.1). He also led the league in total offense at 290.75 yards per game. He was the only quarterback to top the 3,000-yard mark in the Pac-10 and proved to be a sneaky good athlete, finishing in 17th in rushing (51 att., 438 yards, 3 TDs). Luck could be the first pick in the NFL draft next spring and could be the single best football player on the planet not getting an official paycheck.
Chuck Bednarik Award (Def. POY): Stephen Paea, Oregon State
The big Beaver led the conference in forced fumbles with four while posting 10 tackles for loss and six solo sacks from his tackle position. His disruptive ability led to 32.5 total tackles and was one of the few bright spots on an otherwise underachieving defense.
Davey O’Brien Award (QB): Andrew Luck, Stanford
See Heisman Trophy award.
Doak Walker Award (RB): LaMichael James, Oregon
James led the league in rushing per game (152.9 ypg) — which also led the nation. His 1,682 yards also led the league and the nation. His 12 points per game topped Stanford kicker Nate Whitaker in scoring by a full 3.0 ppg. James also showed up in a big way for the big-time games: 134-2 against Oregon State, 239-3 against USC, 257-3 against Stanford and 134-1 against Tennessee.
Fred Biletnikoff Award (WR): Juron Criner, Arizona
No one caught more passes for more yards than Criner. His 73 receptions and 1,186 yards led the league and his 10 receiving touchdowns were third. His five 100-yard efforts came in big spots against the likes of Oregon State, Washington, UCLA and Oregon.
John Mackey Award (TE): Joe Halahuni, Oregon State
The Beaver led the league in receptions per game by a tight end (2.5) and yards (390). He scored six touchdowns — another conference best at his position.
Outland Trophy (O-Lineman): Tyron Smith, USC
Pete Carroll once called him the best offensive lineman he had ever coached. And he has coached some good ones. Was the Stanford O-line better this year? Yes, but three first-teamers make everyone’s job easier. Smith did it with (I can’t believe I am saying this) less around him than the Cardinal trio of Chase Beeler, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin.
Dick Butkus Award (LB): Casey Matthews, Oregon
The Ducks defensive leader finished eighth in the conference in interceptions (3), led Oregon in tackles (56.5), posted 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. This position was virtually impossible to select as Akeem Ayers, Mike Mohamed and Mason Foster all deserved serious consideration. With Oregon headed to the national title game, Matthews got the edge.
Jim Thorpe Award (DB): Cliff Harris, Oregon
It’s tough to give an award to a guy who, at times, found himself on the bench. However, Harris led the league in passes defensed with 15 and interceptions with five (one of which he returned for a TD). He also returned four punts for scores. How many defensive backs have five total touchdowns this year? Harris finished with 25.5 total tackles. Much like linebacker, safeties Rahim Moore and T.J. McDonald both could have easily been selected here, but a guy pushing his team to the national title game gets the edge.
Lombardi Award (D-Lineman): Stephen Paea, Oregon State
See Bednarik Award above.
Adrian Peterson Award (freshman): Robert Woods, USC
The Athlon Sports High School Player of the Year as a senior now has another award for his mantle. The do-everything receiver led the Trojans in receptions (5.0) and yards (60.9) while also returning kicks admirably (38 for 971 yards and a TD). Woods finished sixth in the league in receiving yards (792) and third in receptions (65).
Lou Groza Award (K): Nate Whitaker, Stanford
No one made more field goals than the Cardinal kicker (17 of 19). James was the only Pac-10 player who scored more points this season than Whitaker.
Ray Guy Award (P): Jeff Locke, UCLA
This Bruin led the league in punting (45.8) — good for fifth nationally.
Desmond Howard Award (KR/PR): Cliff Harris, Oregon
How about 28 punt returns for 545 yards — which offers a league-leading 19.5 yards per return, good for second nationally — and four touchdowns? Four.
Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year (HC): Chip Kelly, Oregon
The Oregon Ducks finished the regular season unbeaten, with a conference championship and a berth in the national title game. His Ducks led the league in rushing, scoring, total offense, rush defense, pass efficiency defense, punt returns and tackles for loss. They scored more points (49.3 ppg) than any other team in the nation.
Broyles Award (Asst Coach): Chip Kelly, Oregon
I guess if this were to go to an actual assistant coach, Stanford’s associate head coach/assistant head coach of the offense/tight ends/offensive line coach Greg Roman might get the nod. But since Jim Harbaugh still has the biggest impact on that side of the ball, the edge goes to boy wonder Kelly. It’s his offense that was the best unit in the league this fall (no offense, Scott Frost).
A victory would give the Sun Devils their sixth win of the season, but they still may not be headed to a bowl game. Because Arizona State has played two Football Championship Subdivision opponents, it needs seven wins to qualify for the postseason. The Sun Devils have reportedly filed a waiver with the NCAA to allow it to play in a bowl game if they beat the Wildcats. Arizona State will be led by sophomore quarterback Brock Osweiler, who came off the bench to replace injured starter Steven Threet last Friday and was named Pac-10 Player of the Week after completing 27 of 38 passes for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Arizona, meanwhile, is likely headed to the Alamo Bowl no matter what the result. But the Wildcats, losers of three in a row, would like to go into the Dec. 29 game in San Antonio with a little momentum.
Oregon at Oregon State, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. PT
The stakes in this year’s Civil War have never been higher. The implications are simple. If the Ducks win, they will play in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz. On paper, it looks like Oregon should have no trouble completing an undefeated season and getting to the title game. The Beavers were hammered by Stanford last week and aren’t far removed from their embarrassing home loss to Washington State. But the game is in Corvallis, Ore., and rivalry games have a way of not following the script. The game will also be running back LaMichael James’ final chance to impress Heisman Trophy voters.
Washington at Washington State, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. PT
A couple of weeks ago, it didn’t seem like the Huskies were one of the conference’s top candidates to become bowl-eligible. They needed to win three in a row to close out the season, two of them on the road. Washington is two-thirds of the way there and has taken care of one of the road victories. The Huskies won a thrilling 16-13 contest at Cal on Saturday, scoring a touchdown on the game’s final play to register the victory. At first glance, it would seem beating the Cougars would be the easiest assignment of the final three challenges. But Washington State is coming off its first Pac-10 win in two years, a 31-14 triumph over Oregon State. The Cougars also have had back-to-back bye weeks to prepare for this game.
USC at UCLA, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. PT
It’s been a long time since this rivalry game has had less meaning. The Trojans are banned from a bowl game, so this will end their season. The Bruins were eliminated from bowl contention after their loss at Arizona State last week. Still, this matchup always has important implications for the players. Many of UCLA’s returning players will no doubt remember USC’s decision to throw a deep touchdown pass during the final seconds of last year’s game, despite the Trojans having the game well in hand. It could be a double-whammy of rivalry blues for USC, which fell to its other rival Notre Dame last weekend, 20-16.
USC's sanctions make filling slots hard for the Pac-10.
The Holiday Bowl representative who came to the Washington-Cal game on Saturday may not have been thrilled with what he saw. But at this point, he may want to be satisfied simply having a Pac-10 team in the game at all.
Because of the unique dynamic of the conference — two national title contenders, seven so-so teams and one on NCAA probation — the bowl games with Pac-10 tie-ins don’t exactly have a large pool to choose from this season. The conference has arrangements with six bowls, and as few as one Pac-10 team could fill those slots this season.
Oregon appears headed for the Bowl Championship Series national championship game — a win over Oregon State in Saturday’s Civil War will punch the Ducks’ ticket to Glendale, Ariz. Stanford moved up to No. 4 in the BCS standings this week. The Cardinal’s regular season is over, and unless another team jumps over it, it is guaranteed a spot in one of the BCS games based on the top-4 finish. But it likely won’t be the Rose Bowl. If Auburn and Oregon meet in the BCS title game, the Rose Bowl is obligated under BCS rules to invite TCU, because the Horned Frogs are an automatic qualifier from a non-BCS conference.
So under that scenario, neither of the Pac-10’s top two teams would play in the Rose Bowl this season.
But wait, there’s more. There are five other bowl games that have contracts with the Pac-10 — the Alamo Bowl, Holiday Bowl, Sun Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. Entering the weekend, Arizona is the only other conference team that is bowl-eligible. If it remained that way, the Wildcats would go to the Alamo Bowl and the other four bowl games would have to start searching for bowl-eligible teams from other conferences.
There are three other Pac-10 teams that could become bowl-eligible this weekend. Washington appears to have the best chance. The Huskies were 3–6 at one point and needed three wins in a row to close out their season to qualify. After Saturday’s exciting yet uneasy-on-the-eyes 16–13 win at Cal, Washington is two-thirds of the way there. Now, all the Huskies have to do is beat Washington State in Saturday’s Apple Cup. The Cougars are just 1–7 in conference play, but that win came in their last game over Oregon State.
Washington State has had two weeks off to prepare for the Huskies.
Arizona State and Oregon State each need a win Saturday to become bowl-eligible. The Sun Devils have a legitimate chance at Arizona, which has lost three in a row. The Beavers, meanwhile, don’t figure to stand much of a chance against the Ducks.
Even if Washington and Arizona State both win, they would only fill slots in the Holiday Bowl and Sun Bowl. That would still leave the Las Vegas Bowl and Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl without a Pac-10 representative in their games this year.
Arizona State 55, UCLA 34
Oregon 48, Arizona 29
Washington 16, California 13
Stanford 38, Oregon State 0
Notre Dame 20, USC 16
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore may have seen his Heisman Trophy support wane after the Broncos’ overtime loss to Nevada on Friday. With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck gaining momentum at the same time, this season’s Heisman ceremony could have a strong Pac-10 flavor.
While many still believe Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is the favorite despite widespread reports that question his eligibility, the next two top candidates appear to be Luck and Oregon running back LaMichael James. Depending how players like James and Moore fare in their regular season finales this weekend, there could be just three players invited to New York for the ceremony on Dec. 11. Two of them could be from the Pac-10.
Nothing to lose
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said he never even thought about going for the tie at the end of Saturday’s win over Cal.
Faced with 4th-and-goal at the Bears’ 1-yard line, Sarkisian called timeout with one second left and the Huskies trailing 13–10. Instead of attempting a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime, Washington went for the win. Running back Chris Polk easily scored, setting off a wild Husky celebration while the Bears slowly trudged off the field with their season having abruptly come to an end.
Filling the hole
With top big-play receiver Chris Owusu out with an undisclosed injury, Stanford’s Doug Baldwin has been stepping up his production in recent weeks. The senior caught five passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns during the Cardinal’s 38-0 rout of Oregon State last week. In the three games Owusu has been sidelined, Baldwin is averaging 6.7 catches for 105.3 yards in receptions. He’s also scored three times.
Alabama has a new fan base this week — the Stanford Cardinal. The Cardinal’s immediate future depends a lot on Friday’s Auburn-Alabama showdown. Stanford is trying to make its first Rose Bowl since 2000 but may need a little help from the Crimson Tide.
As of now, Oregon and Auburn are the top two teams in the Bowl Championship Series standings. If both teams win the rest of their games, they will meet in the BCS championship game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
If that happens, the Rose Bowl is required to offer a bid to a BCS-eligible team from a non-automatic qualifying conference. In this case, that bid likely would go to TCU or Boise State.
But if Auburn loses, the No. 2 team in the BCS standings likely will become either TCU or Boise State. If either of those two teams plays in the BCS championship game, the Rose Bowl is off the hook and can return to its Pac-10 roots. Stanford would be the team to come to Pasadena because of its second-place finish in the conference standings. Oregon is the Pac-10 winner but would be taking its chances with an even bigger prize.
Another question is whether Stanford might get picked for another BCS game even if TCU or Boise State winds up in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal are No. 6 in the BCS standings and could move up higher if a team in front of them goes down
One hurdle the Cardinal would have to overcome is fan interest. Stanford wouldn’t figure to travel well to a bowl game — it didn’t come close to selling out its last home game, a much-anticipated showdown against Arizona. Then again, perhaps the lure of quarterback Andrew Luck, a Heisman Trophy candidate, would make Stanford an appealing product.
This, of course, all depends on the Cardinal taking care of business in its season-finale Saturday against Oregon State. Stanford should be heavily favored to take out the Beavers, but OSU did have a strong bounce-back game last weekend in a rout over USC.
The Cardinal looked very strong in the Big Game against Cal, a team that had been playing very well at home this season. Entering Saturday, the Bears were 4–1 at Memorial Stadium, with their only loss coming 15–13 to the top-ranked Ducks. But Stanford dominated on offense while Cal was victimized by a slew of penalties, mistakes and missed opportunities.
Luck made a late-season Heisman statement, whipping the Bears with his arm and legs. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and reeled off a pivotal 58-yard run in the second quarter that led to a touchdown. Luck looked like the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft he is anticipated to be. He demonstrated a terrific awareness of the pocket, often knowing just how long to wait before delivering a pass with pinpoint accuracy.
Washington 24, UCLA 7
Stanford 48, California 14
Oregon State 36, USC 7
Oregon State’s chances at a bowl game suddenly don’t feel like such a long shot. It didn’t appear the Beavers had a chance to win two of their final three games against the top three teams in the Pac-10 after a world’s-coming-to-an-end loss to Washington State last weekend. Before that, it was an unsightly loss at UCLA. But the Beavers got their mojo back in a big way Saturday, routing USC 36–7 at Reser Stadium. Suddenly, all the questions and doubt from the previous week were gone, and now Oregon State has to find a way to beat either Stanford or Oregon in its final two games to become bowl-eligible.
That won’t be easy, of course. The Ducks and Cardinal are far and away the class of the Pac-10. The Beavers must travel Saturday to Stanford, which absolutely dismantled Cal 48–14. Then, after playing the No. 7 team in the nation, it will be the Civil War against Oregon.
HUSKIES STILL ALIVE
Washington is another team that should have its bowl chances upgraded. The Huskies entered last week needing to win their last three games of the season, but not against the best competition. Washington beat UCLA 24–7 on Thursday. With the Apple Cup against lowly Washington State looming, the Huskies can enter Saturday’s game at Cal knowing they can get into prime position for bowl eligibility with a victory.
The Bears have been very good at home this season, but this is a different team than it was earlier in 2010. They have a new quarterback in Brock Mansion, who has made too many mistakes in his three starts and has been mostly ineffective. And their usually impenetrable defense at home was torn apart by Stanford — they allowed 469 yards to fall out of first place in the Pac-10 in total defense.
At 5–6, Cal needs a win to become bowl-eligible as well.
Stanford (9-1, 6-1) at California (5-5, 3-4), Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
The Cardinal will continue their quest for a BCS bowl berth with a visit to their rival. No. 1 Oregon remains the only team to beat Stanford. If both teams continue on their current paths, Stanford could be in line for a ticket to the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal’s balanced, potent offense will get a test from the Bears, who put together one of the best defensive performances in the nation this season during their 15–13 loss to Oregon last weekend. Cal leads the Pac-10 and is 10th nationally in total defense, but most of its success this season has come against spread offenses. The Cardinal run a power, pro-style attack that will be a whole new challenge for the Bears. That being said, Cal stopped Stanford’s offense last season when it was the hottest in the country.
USC (7-3, 4-3) at Oregon State (4-5, 3-3), Saturday, 5 p.m.
Two teams going in different directions meet in the Pacific Northwest. The Trojans, despite having nothing to play for, are playing their best ball at the end of the season. USC has won two in a row, including a road victory at Arizona last week. The Trojans, who are not eligible to play in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, can still reach a 10-win season if they win their final three games. The Beavers, meanwhile, are reeling. They have lost three of four, including an embarrassing 31–14 home setback to Washington State last week. This begins a brutal final stretch of the season for the Beavers. After Saturday, Oregon State travels to Stanford before closing out the regular season in the Civil War against Oregon. The Beavers need to win two of their final three games to be bowl-eligible.