Halloween can be a scary night.
Halloween football can be even scarier.
It also happens to be a night where strange and wonderful things can happen in the PAC 12.
Let's jump right into the Roundup.
You Talkin' Playoffs?
The parity and the performance of the PAC 12 teams is not lending itself to a very strong argument - at least not to the naked eye - when it comes to ensuring a spot in the College Football Playoffs. This is the time of year that the chatter starts to get really serious when it comes to the seeding. In fact, the selection committee will release its first update tomorrow.
The Stanford Cardinal are the highest ranked P12 team in the both polls right now. However, most pundits do not expect the Cardinal to be any higher than sixth (maybe seventh?) tomorrow. This despite the fact that the Cardinal are ranked 2nd in overall FEI just behind Clemson. If they could somehow win out, they would have a strong claim to a playoff spot.
However, there are strong reasons to believe that the PAC may get blocked out. The first interesting thing that happened was that Florida beat Georgia this weekend which eliminated their last serious threat to a run at the SEC East. If Florida gets to the SEC championships and somehow finds a way to beat a presumably undefeated LSU team - the only team that Florida has lost to this year - the SEC could legitimately have two participants, or at least one good candidate on the bubble. That would put a lot of pressure on a Stanford team that wouldn't have as good a win as Florida's over LSU and a worse loss in the Week 1 defeat to Northwestern. Stanford's struggles with WSU this past weekend are only going to fuel the doubters.
This is a situation to keep an eye on.
The RichRod Conundrum
Many UW fans observed that Arizona seemed to pack it in against the Huskies, even when the game was still in doubt. While I'm generally careful to not fall into the trap of projecting what it is that kids were feeling in a game, it certainly does seem like a valid observation in this case.
Something has been amiss for Arizona all season - and I'm talking about beyond the injuries they've suffered. Whatever it is, it seems to have been exacerbated by the "Rich Rod to (name the school)" rumors that are overwhelming social media. With openings currently available in Maryland, South Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech, there are no shortage of opportunities for a coach like Rich Rodriguez to peddle his wares in an environment every bit as committed to football as Arizona (if not more so) and closer to his home. The fact that current West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorson is rumored to be a candidate for a few of these roles could create a gravitational pull for Rich Rod back to the school that launched his career.
Don't think for a second his players don't know it.
Cuogs Cougin' It in a non-Cougin' It Fashion
Give the Cougars some credit. They've rebounded nicely from an opening weekend loss to FBS Portland State and have put some legitimate PAC 12 wins on the board so far this season. Even in defeat to the Stanford Cardinal, they demonstrated the kind of resilience and toughness that most PAC fanbases do not associate with Washington State.
So, when the Cougars actually have yet another game where they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the manner in which they lost makes the term "Cougin' it" not feel like such an insult. Such was the case last weekend. The Cougs were tough across the board against Stanford. Their defensive front seven contained RB Christian McCaffrey. Their secondary out physicaled a physical group of Stanford receivers. Their offensive line - a unit that returned the entire two deep from a season ago and has started the same five in every game this season - was borderline dominating. They were so good that they straight-up took Stanford out of their game plan. But for some improvisational running by QB Kevin Hogan, the Cougs would have won that game.
As it were, the game winning kick sailed wide and the Cougs lost a bitter one, but with heads held high.
One can't discount the significance of the work that interim head coach Clay Helton is doing with his USC Trojans. He is instilling a true "us against the world" mindset and is rebranding his team from the "Showtime" persona that Steve Sarkisian favored to something much more gritty. In last weekend's game against Cal, Helton demonstrated this new, physical approach by opting to run the ball on nearly 2/3 of his play calls. Cal actually handled USC pretty well in that they only gave up three plays of 20 yds or more the whole game.
But USC was relentless about the run. By the time it was over, they had run the ball 50 times for the game and generated just 20 points from the offense. Helton seemed perfectly happy with that. In fact, in a stark departure from Sark, he opted to punt the ball three different times on fourth downs with distances less than 3 yards inside his opponent's 50.
Whether or not Helton gets the job remains to be seen. But he is clearly putting his stamp on the Trojans in a way that is more similar to Kyle Whittingham or Chris Petersen than it is to Rich Rod or Todd Graham.
The Cool Chart
The Power Rankings - Week 10
|1||1||Stanford||7-1 (6-0)||@ Colorado|
|Last Week||WIN||Stanford 30 vs WSU 28|
|Is it possible to win a game on the road in conference play and have it hurt your playoff chances? I'm not completely sure. But if it were, than this game may have done that to the Cardinal. Stanford was really out-hustled, out-muscled and out-played by the Cuogs in this one. In fact, I think if WSU wasn't having to contend with the weather as much as they did, they would have won this game outright (no matter what you thought of the pick-6 that got erased). As it was, Stanford showed nice resilience on D and that Kevin Hogan can impact the outcome of a game even when their offensive game plan gets shut down by an opponent. Their path to an undefeated P12 season is now much more clear.|
|Player of the Game||QB Kevin Hogan (86 yds passing, 112 yds rushing, 2 TD runs)||Let's be clear, Hogan's passing game was terrible in the elements of Pullman. But when the game was starting to get out of hand, Hogan took over with his legs and became Stanford's leading rusher in a backfield that includes Christian McCaffrey. His 59 yard TD run in the 3rd quarter to give Stanford its first lead was a real back-breaker.|
|2||2||Utah||7-1 (4-1)||@ Washington|
|Last Week||WIN||OSU 12 vs Utah 27|
|The Utes pretty much did what they should do against a rebuilding team like OSU. Their offense was efficient, their defense was stifling and their special teams allowed no momentum swinging plays. It wasn't sexy in any way - and you do need to be concerned at Utah's relative lack of explosive plays generated - but any team will take nearly 180 yds rushing, 12 yards per pass attempt and a punter who boots three punts over 50 yards in a game. The Utes aren't exactly peaking right now, but they are getting healthy and should be at full strength when they visit Montlake next week.|
|Player of the Game||LB Jared Norris (9 tcks, 1.5 TFL)||Between Norris and Gionni Paul, Utah has a pair of LBs that may rival UW's Bierria and Victor as the best duo in the PAC. Against OSU, it was Norris's turn to shine. He was pretty much unblockable against the Beavers.|
|3||3||UCLA||6-2 (3-2)||@ OSU|
|Last Week||WIN||Colorado 31 vs UCLA 35|
|Although the Buffs have yet to beat UCLA since joining the PAC, there is something about Colorado that gives the Bruins fits. UCLA allowed Colorado to run 114 plays ... in regulation. That's remarkable. But, I suppose we should give UCLA credit for taking away the big plays, even if they could do nothing to stop the run all day. I think the bottom line with UCLA is that they still have the talent to be really good, but their flaws are such that certain teams are going to be difficult for them.|
|Player of the Game||LB Jayon Brown (18 tckls, 1 TFL)||Against 114 plays run, maybe 18 tackles doesn't seem as impressive. But it still is. The MIKE position is a grueling one. For Brown to have the endurance to make 18 tackles says much about both his conditioning and his motivation.|
|4||4||USC||4-3 (3-2)||vs Arizona|
|Last Week||WIN||USC 27 vs Cal 21|
|This was a good example of a game won when the big plays aren't necessarily there. USC couldn't convert a lot of explosives, but still managed to run the ball 50 times for the game. You can do that if you QB can convert 6 of 15 third downs as Cody Kessler did. Beyond the stout rushing attack that is quickly becoming one of the most physical "by committee" situations in the nation, USC's defense continues to play at a high level. The Trojans have rebounded from the Sark distraction and, if UW happens to beat Utah this weekend, will completely control their own destiny in the South.|
|Player of the Game||DB/KR Adoree Jackson||Jackson scored had two plays - a long punt return and a pick six - that broke this game open. In a game that was otherwise a straight up standoff between two good teams, Jackson was the difference.|
|5||5||WSU||5-3 (3-2)||vs ASU|
|Last Week||LOSS||Stanford 30 vs WSU 28|
|Pretty hard to drop WSU in the Power Rankings after a loss to the best team in the PAC, especially considering that the Cuogs thoroughly outplayed said best team. Even though they had to settle for FGs, WSU was able to move the ball consistently against Stanford. Even more impressive was the WSU D which pretty much shut down a Cardinal offense that had just the week before pounded the best defense in the conference. The elements, of course, assisted both defenses, but this Cuog D is clearly now a legitimate P12 defense.|
|Player of the Game||LB Peyton Pelluer (10 tckls, 1 TFL)||The whole middle of the WSU defense - including NT Robert Barber, NICKEL Parker Henry and FS Shalom Luani - played tough. But it was Pelluer, I thought, who just seemed to show up the most throughout the game.|
|6||6||Oregon||5-3 (3-2)||vs Cal|
|Last Week||WIN||Oregon 61 vs ASU 55|
|I don't really know what to think of Oregon. Their Defense is certifiably bad. A streaky ASU offense racked up 108 plays and 742 total yards including overtime. Additionally, the Oregon base offense - the kind that is played when Vernon Adams is not improvising - seems to continue to gravitate towards something away from their traditional strength and more focused on the air attack. Consider for a moment that at one point in the fourth quarter, Royce Freeman had just 8 carries. Eight!!! I suppose it says something that Oregon has a lot of playmakers in the receiving corps, but c'mon. This isn't Duck football.|
|Player of the Game||WR / DB Chuck Nelson (14 tackles, 185 return yds)||The young Nelson was dialed in and, really, the only bright spot on the Oregon defense. Consider that he played in all three phases in a game that saw Oregon have to defend over 100 plays and run several special teams plays and you can't help but to be impressed with this athlete.|
|7||7||Cal||5-3 (2-3)||@ Oregon|
|Last Week||LOSS||USC 27 vs Cal 21|
|USC beating Cal is nothing new - they've now defeated the Bears 12 straight times. However, the fact that Cal - once again - struggled on offense is a yellow flag. The irony here is that Cal's defense has clearly exceeded expectations for the season and they put forth another great effort last weekend. It just wasn't enough for a Cal team that is running out of time to get their season put back on the track that Cal fans were hoping for.|
|Player of the Game||LB Hardy Nickerson (13 tckls)||It was a rough day for the Cal defense in the sense that they were not able to generate much in terms of negative plays. But they were resilient, nobody more so that Hardy Nickerson.|
|8||8||ASU||4-4 (2-3)||@ WSU|
|Last Week||LOSS||Oregon 61 vs ASU 55|
|ASU thoroughly outplayed Oregon in just about every way that you can EXCEPT for at the QB position. More precisely, except for the play of the QB when plays were breaking down. While Vernon Adams was making things happen and jaws drop, Mike Bercovici was driving his fan base crazy with brilliant play followed by bonehead play. It's been the story of the year for ASU. The division is now pretty much out of reach for Todd Graham and the Sun Devils will have to refocus on new expectations. For a team that plays on emotion like no other in the PAC, I'm curious to see how they bounce back, if at all.|
|Player of the Game||WR Tim White (9 recs, 91 yds, 1 TD)||White has really emerged the past few weeks for a team that has really struggled to replace Jaelen Strong. White is more of a Jaydon Mickens style player, but he is dangerous. Oregon really didn't have an answer for him - or for anybody else on an ASU offense that racked up nearly 800 yards in total offense - last week.|
|9||10||Washington||4-4 (2-3)||vs Utah|
|Last Week||WIN||Arizona 3 vs Washington 49|
|Pure domination of a team in the PAC 12 is worthy of praise. A defense that shuts out the end zone the top scoring offense in the league especially so. One cannot overstate the performance of the UW linebacking corps - Travis Feeney, Azeem Victor, Keishawn Bierria and Cory Littleton - in this one. They are worthy of all the platitudes that will come their way. Also worthy of recognition is a UW offense. In particular, the passing game seemed to find a little rhythm with Jake Browning returning, spreading the ball around to 9 receivers and tossing four TDs while running for a fifth. The quality of the defense is a mitigating circumstance, but this was still the kind of night this team has been waiting for.|
|Player of the Game||QB Jake Browning (67%, 263 yds, 4 TDs, 1 rush TD)||Lots of guys could have qualified for this one. With apologies to Travis Feeney, Sidney Jones, Keishawn Bierria, and Joshua Perkins, I'm going with the QB here. The stark contrast between the production we saw between the two QBs that have started the last two games is a stark reminder of the kind of curve that Jake is on right now. If he can have a few more games of steady, efficient play like this to close out the season, UW will go bowling.|
|10||11||Colorado||4-5 (1-4)||vs Stanford|
|Last Week||LOSS||Colorado 31 vs UCLA 35|
|This one is going to sting for a while. UCLA is a good football team and the fact of the matter was that Colorado was physically beating them up all day. But, they simply couldn't close the deal. Still, you have to like what you are seeing. Their run game was stout. Nelson Spruce really shined at his WR spot. The defense is hanging in there and showing some fight. This is what turning the corner looks like in an ultra competitive PAC 12.|
|Player of the Game||DT Jordan Carrell (4 tckls, 1 sack, 1 FF)||Odds are that you have never heard of Carrell. He's another example of a tough young player that is helping to build up that Colorado roster. He had a really nice game for the Buffs.|
|11||9||Arizona||5-4 (2-4)||@ USC|
|Last Week||LOSS||Arizona 3 @ Washington 49|
|Since Week 1, we've wondered in this space about what is off with Arizona Wildcats. Of course, it starts with a defense that just can't find any of the disruptive plays that they generated in what increasingly looks like a magical 2014. Injuries are part of the equation. I also am starting to think that the noise of rumors of a possible move by RichRod into one of the open east coast jobs is reverberating in the locker room. Either way, the Wildcats were donning the best zombie outfits on their Halloween night loss to UW.|
|Player of the Game||K Casey Skowron||I'm not sure who you would pick in this one. The kicker had a FG and a touchback in one of his two kickoffs. Let's go there.|
|12||12||Oregon State||2-6 (0-5)||vs UCLA|
|Last Week||LOSS||OSU 12 vs Utah 27|
|This was a tough week for the Beavers. Their starting QB, Seth Collins, suffered an injury in practice and didn't trip. That left RS freshman Nick Mitchell, more of a pure pocket passer, in a position to make his first start against a tough Utah defense. He comported himself well with 200 yds passing and no turnovers, but it obviously wasn't enough. I still think OSU shows a whole lot of fight - particularly on the defensive side of the ball - and the players seem to have responded to Gary Anderson's "Respect the Process" motto.|
|Player of the Game||WR Victor Bolden (146 all purpose yards)||There were some solid showings on defense, but I thought it would be good to honor Victor Bolden here. He exemplified what it means to be "scrappy" as an offensive skill player. He caught the ball, he rushed the ball, he blocked and he returned kicks. He was "all in" even with the odds stacked against his team. He's a fun player to watch.|