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Pac 12 Football Roundup and Final Power Rankings

The torchbearer of the conference once again failed to fulfill their destiny as the Pac 12 wraps up its football season.

Hold on a second.  That's not Mark Helfrich
Hold on a second. That's not Mark Helfrich
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

There was a football game last night.  This happened:

zeke run 1

So did this:

Mariota flattened

It was a rough night for the Oregon Ducks, their fans and their soon-to-be-declaring junior QB Marcus Mariota.  The Oregon Ducks represented the Pac 12 in the world's first College Football Playoff National Championship and got dominated by Urbany Meyer and the Ohio State University by a score of 42-20.

This game featured the implementation of the old "blue print" for beating Oregon and their tempo-driven attack.  Ohio State prepared meticulously to slow down Mark Helfrich's attack by playing sound gap control, by frequently dropping an extra safety into the box to take away the Oregon inside zone read and force options outside and by employing a comprehensive blitz scheme focusing on Mariota's option side.  It was actually the classic "Stanford strategy" and one that several teams have tried to execute in the past.  It just so happens that Ohio State has the athletes to do it with effictiveness.

The Buckeyes, when they had the ball, actually tried very hard to give the game away to the Ducks.  They committed four turnovers on the night, two of the completely "unforced" variety, and it looked for a while that this game would be heading the route of the Rose Bowl game against FSU.  However, the Ducks were only able to score 10 points off of those four turnovers.  Whenever tOSU got the ball back, the combination of sophomore QB Cardale Jones and sophomore RB Ezekiel Elliot were simply unstoppable.  Elliott, in particular, was a beast carrying the ball 36 times for 247 yards and a couple of scores.  His ball control was key in limiting the Ducks to just 22 plays on offense in the second half including just six ... SIX! ... in the fourth quarter.

For the Ducks, it is a familiar story.  While they can certainly claim injuries were a factor (of course, so could tOSU), the crumbling of Oregon on the big game stage has become a bit of an inside joke to Pac 12 fans.  While it is largely a myth (Oregon has won plenty of its fair share of "big games"), one simply cannot deny that the tempo attack seems to have limited value in settings where the other team has time to prepare (LSU, Auburn) or has the physicality in the trenches to make the time between snaps moot (Stanford, tOSU).  In fact, in those cases, Oregon actually ends up stressing their own defense more than the opponents by forcing them to be on the field for more plays and to have less recuperation time after they give up a score or force a stop.

In the end, Oregon did nothing to shake the label of being a "finesse" team.  The world is as convinced as ever that the Oregon tempo is great at lighting up the scoreboard when the Ducks can roll out a roster of superior athletes to their opposition (see middling to bad teams like Washington and Oregon State).  But put that same scheme against a roster equally as well recruited and, well, there seems to be no advantage to running that IZR with 14 seconds between snaps as opposed to 18.

Oregon's loss and the manner in which they lost definitely reflects poorly on the rest of the Pac 12 if for no other reason than due to how easily the Ducks ran through their conference schedule.  Although they had the one hiccup against Arizona, the Ducks had as dominating a run in conference play as we've seen out of any team in over a decade.  There is little doubt that the nation noticed.  The fact that this very same tOSU team struggled themselves with, ironically, defense for much of the season also emboldens the point of view that Oregon is a "system team" that simply doesn't translate well outside of the Pac 12.

Regardless of where you fall in that argument - and I invite you to debate the question as to "how great is Oregon and what does it say about the Pac 12?" in the comments below - the fact still remains that they Ducks had a great season behind one of the best QBs that this conference has ever seen.  There can be little doubt that they finish the season atop our final Pac 12 Power Rankings.

Final 2014 Pac 12 Power Rankings

Rank Prev Team Record Next Game
1 1
Oregon Helmet
#2 Oregon 12-1 (8-1)
Last Game WIN Nat'l Championship: Ore 20, tOSU 42
The Ducks turned a dominating performance against FSU in the Rose Bowl into a dominated one against tOSU in the National Championship. Regardless of how it went down, the Ducks end 2014 firmly atop our power rankings. The only question now becomes as to whether or not they are the team to beat next year? Jeff Lockie was not all that awe-inspiring in his limited looks this year - including the two snaps last night.
2 3
ASU Helmet
#15 Arizona State 10-3 (6-3)
Last Game WIN Sun Bowl: ASU 36, Duke 31
It was pretty tough to pick a clear-cut #2 team in the Pac given that the Pac 12 South Division winner, Arizona, got beaten in the Fiesta Bowl. With apologies to USC, I give the nod to ASU. Though they barely got by Duke in the Sun Bow, they managed to do so by exerting their will and their style on the overall game. Duke clearly demonstrated a blue print on how to handle ASU's ultra aggressive play. However, it was the Sun Devils who still made the key plays to win the game. It's hard to know what kind of team ASU will put on the field next year with the graduation of its two most important playmakers in Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong, but I'm guessing it will be right in the thick of the P12S race.
3 4
USC Helmet
#24 USC 9-4 (6-3)
Last Game WIN Holiday Bowl: USC 45, Nebraska 42
I know that there are a lot of Sark haters on this blog, but you can't help but to feel that USC posted the most impressive win outside of the Rose Bowl. In a close game that pitted the young, partial roster of USC against a upper-classmen heavy Nebraska team, it was USC that made the most plays and grinded out the hard-fought conclusion to win the game. The Trojans enter the offseason bound to lose a few key contributors - most importantly DL Leonard Williams - but looking absolutely loaded if not with a full roster. They look like the one team that has the clearest path to challenging the hegemony of Oregon in the Pac 12.
4 2
Arizona Helmet
#10 Arizona 10-4 (7-2)
Last Game LOSS Fiesta Bowl: Boise St 38, Arizona 30
Out of respect for what UA accomplished over the course of the season, I felt compelled to leave them in the top 5. However, in reality, this is a team that limped to the finish line having lost its last two games, both in unimpressive fashion. The Fiesta Bowl featured more of the same of what has plagued Arizona over that time frame - wildly inconsistent and inaccurate QB play, recklessness with ball security and a defense prone to over-pursuit and surrendering explosive plays. Arizona is a young team that will get better, but they finished on a down note.
5 6
ucla helmet
#14 UCLA 10-3 (6-3)
Last Game WIN Alamo Bowl: UCLA 40, Kansas St 35
I was ready to give UCLA a much higher rating after a dominating first half. But then UCLA came out and do what they often did this season: finish with a whimper. Still, you cannot deny what you saw if you watched the game. QB Brett Hundley was effecient, RB Paul Perkins continued to make his case as the breakout player of the year and that D had their "good D-Line" hats on as they were able to generate a quality pass rush. Like UA, UCLA is a young team. They will definitely have trouble replacing their QB, and they may have to replace a head coach if Jim Mora bolts back to the NFL. However, they have talent at most levels and look like they will be hanging around the top of the Pac for the forseeable future.
6 5
Stanford 8-5 (5-4)
Last Game WIN Foster Farms Bowl: Stan 45, Mary 21
Stanford probably deserves a higher ranking, but it was hard to really guage how strongly they finished the season when their bowl game was essentially a home game against what may be the worst Power 5 team to play in the post season. Regardless of the competition, Stanford finished strong in a game that was a classic Cardinal physical beat down. Kevin Hogan was wildly efficient and that D was impenetrable until the reserves were rotated in. There will be a lot of questions around Stanford as they graduate most of their starting defense, but right now they look good.
7 8
utah helmet
Utah 9-4 (5-4)
Last Game WIN Vegas Bowl: Utah 45, CSU 10
The Utes dominated their coach-less MWC counterpart in a bowl game that they know all to well. While the level of competition may have left something to be desired, you cannot deny the dominance displayed by the Utes. However, the ensuing chaos that followed which resulted in both coordinators and key recruiter resigning has left the Utes in a precarious position. With Kyle Whittinham's future in no way assured, the Utes will be one program to watch during the offseason.
8 7
UW Helmet
Washington 8-6 (4-5)
Last Game LOSS Cactus Bowl: OKST 30, UW 22
The Huskies reverted back to their Sark-era ways of playing undisciplined, lazy and unmotivated football for a half before finally waking up and making a game of it against the barely-bowl-eligible OKST Cowboys. Unfortunately, the Pokes had already established a 24-0 lead before it the Huskies began to claw back. The manner in which it happened was what really shocked. The Huskies D-Line completely failed to compete against one of the most porous O-Lines in the nation and the Huskies rushing offense was completely stifled when they had the ball. This failure of coaching and execution leaves more questions than answers for a Husky team going into an offseason looking for an identity to build upon.
9 9
Cal Helmet
Cal 5-7 (3-6)
Last Game No Bowl
Nobody closed the season in more disappointing fashion than the Bears. Not only did they lose their last three, but the OOC loss to BYU in the last week of the season cost them a chance at bowl eligibility. That they engineered one of the more remarkable bounce-back seasons in recent Pac 12 memory is of little consolation to Sonny Dykes and his team. The good news is that the Bears will return one of the better P12 QBs next year in Jared Goff and will be a little bit longer in the tooth on the defensive side of the ball. Like WSU, they are a team that might be able to pull of a few surprising wins in next year's schedule.
10 10
OSU Helmet
Oregon State 5-7 (2-7)
Last Game No Bowl
While the Beavers did not qualify for the post season, their team may have gotten a lot better with the hiring of new coach Gary Andersen and several assistants with pedigress both in physical smash mouth football and in recruiting / developing "big uglies", particularly from the islands. While replacing record-setting QB Sean Mannion is no small task, Beaver fans are smiling as they look at their bright orange future.
11 11
WSU Helmet
WSU 3-9 (2-7)
Last Game No Bowl
Mike Leach and his Cougars exited the season with a lot of disappointed Coug fans asking "wtf?" With the losses of key players like Vince Mayle, Connor Halliday, Xavier Cooper and Daquan Brown, it is not surprising that there may be consternation. That said, WSU seems to be putting together a good recruiting class and their identity continues to take hold throughout the program as evidenced by how well Luke Falk engineered the offense despite his limited tools. The Cougs are a wild card in the Pac 12 going into 2015.
12 12
Colorado Helmet
Colorado 2-10 (0-9)
Last Game No Bowl
It is hard to describe the situation that Colorado finds itself in going into the offseason. On one hand, this is a team with a lot of moxy and some serious grit. Though they were winless on the season in the Pac, they played a lot of teams straight up and put a lot of fear into some of those programs. On the other hand, this is a team still lacking in the baseline talent required to win even a few games in the Power 5, much less compete for division titles. Even with how gutsy their QB Sefo Liufau is or how competent WR Nelson Spruce is, there simply are no playmakers here for the Buffs to really build around. How their really young players develop remains to be seen.