VIDEO: Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone scouts Stanford defense

The biggest worry for UCLA this Friday is Stanford’s defense — by far the toughest on the Bruins’ schedule. The Cardinal have no obvious holes on that side of the ball, ranking third nationally in opponent yards per pass attempt (5.4) and 15th in yards per carry (3.18).

Asked what in particular is challenging about the Stanford defense, UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone quipped: “What isn’t challenging about the Stanford defense?”

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After Oregon’s loss, is UCLA the new Pac-12 favorite?

Nearly four months ago, UCLA was listed as an early favorite almost through its entire 2014 schedule. The exception? Mighty Oregon, just a year removed from four straight BCS bowls, and an early three-point favorite.

My, how things have changed.

UCLA stumbled out of the gate, collecting three uneven wins before stomping on then-No. 15 Arizona State last Thursday. The Bruins still have question marks, but they’re on the upswing, and back in the hearts and minds of at least a few national pundits. One ESPN analyst has them in the San Francisco Bowl, but another picked the Fiesta Bowl. CBS Sports has slotted UCLA back into the Sugar Bowl, as the No. 4 seed in a national semifinal against Alabama.

The No. 2 Ducks, meanwhile, might have cost themselves national title hopes with their 31-24 loss at home last night to Arizona — the most surprising undefeated team left in the country. (Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde wrote this of the Wildcats: “Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: zero.”) Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: Arizona State’s Chip Sarafin comes out as gay

» Arizona State offensive lineman Chip Sarafin came out on Wednesday, becoming first openly gay active player in Division I football.

» Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon is trying to win Arizona’s starting quarterback — something that would require beating out transfers from USC, LSU and Texas.

» The Ice Bucket Challenge has helped raise $2.3 million for the national ALS association since July 29, and UCLA coach Jim Mora accepted a challenge to join yesterday:

» Washington State crossed the Idaho border for training camp, but wildfires forced the Cougars back to Pullman. Continue reading

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Pac-12 links: Former Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour heads to Penn State

» Just a month after stepping down (or being forced out) as Cal’s athletic director, Sandy Barbour parlayed an uneven tenure in the Bay Area into a bigger job at Penn State — one that will pay her $700,000 per year.

» Stanford’s Josh Huestis went to the Oklahoma City Thunder as the 29th overall pick in the NBA draft, but will head to the D-League rather than sign his guaranteed rookie contract. Grantland’s Zach Lowe explains why.

» Gary Payton II has arrived on the Oregon State campus, where his famous father’s enormous shadow still looms. Continue reading

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Oregon picked to win Pac-12 title over UCLA in preseason poll

Oregon and UCLA are both overwhelming favorites in their respective divisions, but for the fourth time in five years, the Ducks are the preseason pick to win the Pac-12.

Media members gave Oregon 24 votes to win conference title game at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 5, nearly double the 13 votes UCLA received. Stanford and USC also received one vote each to win the league, though they only combined for three votes to take their respective divisions.

The preseason poll has correctly picked 28 of 53 conference champions, and 11 of the last 14. Continue reading

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Which players have the best names in the Pac-12?

By now, you’ve read many of the lists that have proliferated in college football’s dry summer months. The best 100 players. The freakiest players. The best coaches, best offseasons, best uniforms.

But this? This is the most important of them all. With Pac-12 Media Days — schedule here — kicking off this morning, I have compiled the five best names from each team in the conference.

Without further ado …

Arizona: Sir Thomas Jackson, Antonio Smothers, Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Brogan Kemmerly, Abraham Mendivil

Not great depth here, as the latter two names sacrifice catchiness in favor of length. Still, Sir Thomas Jackson alone is an MVP candidate.

Arizona State: Ezekial Bishop, Demetrius Cherry, Zane Gonzalez, Jaxon Hood, Jaelen Strong

A solid quintet that lacks a superstar.

Cal: Hardy Nickerson, Avery Sebastian, Bryce Treggs, Brennan Scarlett, Maximo Espitia

A nice throwback in Hardy Nickerson, bookended by a name that makes me want to re-watch Russell Crowe take on a despotic Joaquin Phoenix. Continue reading

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How similar are Tulsa’s James Woodard and Stanford’s Chasson Randle?

Tulsa’s best player is unquestionably sophomore guard James Woodard, an All-Conference USA second-team selection who leads the team in scoring and rebounding.

Unsurprisingly, head coach Steve Alford pointed out Woodard as the main focus of the scouting report for UCLA’s Friday tipoff against the Golden Hurricane. Alford and Bruin guard Norman Powell compared Woodard to Stanford junior Chasson Randle, who combined for 51 points on 16-of-40 shooting in his three games against the Bruins.

Here’s how their stats measure up heading into the NCAA tournament:
Woodard, 6-3, 183 | 15.7 ppg, 44.2 FG%, 38.9 3P%, 78.2 FT%, 1.8 apg, 5.8 rpg, 1.0 spg
Randle, 6-2, 185 | 18.7 ppg, 48.5 FG%, 39.7 3P%, 76.5 FT%, 2.2 apg, 3.5 rpg, 0.9 spg Continue reading

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UCLA advances to Pac-12 title game with rout of Stanford

LAS VEGAS — Clear your schedules, everyone. The Pac-12 Tournament is going to end in style.

The two best teams in the conference will meet at the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 3 p.m. Saturday, with top-seeded Arizona matching up against No. 2-seed UCLA.

Stingy defense versus prolific offense.

On Friday night, the Bruins romped to an 84-59 blowout of Stanford — shooting a season-high 65.2 percent in the most lopsided game in league tourney history. Two hours earlier, the Wildcats had shut down Colorado, 63-43, holding the Buffs to a season-worst 29.4 percent shooting performance.

They marked the sixth and seventh of 10 games at the Pac-12 Tournament decided by at least 11 points. Continue reading

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UCLA clinches No. 2 seed in Pac-12 Tournament

UCLA hasn’t played yet this week, but games elsewhere in the Pac-12 sealed the Bruins a No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. The team will start its Las Vegas schedule with a 6 p.m. tipoff on Pac-12 Networks next Thursday.

Colorado helped UCLA by beating Stanford, 59-56, Wednesday night and knocking the Cardinal to 9-8 in league play. Arizona State also fell out of the race for second one night prior with a loss to Oregon.

The Buffaloes and Sun Devils are sitting at 10-7, leaving them 1.5 games behind the Bruins. Even if UCLA loses to both Washington and Washington State to end the season, it would head head-to-head tiebreakers against both in the event of a three-way tie.

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