Dec 18

2015 Pac-12 Picking the Winners Recap: November

Taylor McNamara's TD catch capped off USC's South Division-clinching 40-21 victory over UCLA on Nov. 28

Taylor McNamara’s TD catch capped off USC’s South Division-clinching 40-21 victory over UCLA on Nov. 28

Welcome to my third and final monthly recap of my 2015 “Picking the Winners” Pac-12 preview (which has appeared annually on USCFootball.com for the past decade or so). My first two recaps appeared on Sept. 30 (covering September results) and Nov. 5 (covering October results). If you missed my picks in the feature story, here’s the link:

15th Annual ‘Picking the Winners’ Pac-12 Preview

My November mark of 18-7 (including the Pac-12 Championship game) left my overall record for the season at 67-25 (.728), matching my 2014 mark. Not counting the Pac-12 title game — which I include as a loss, since I had Oregon (not Stanford) beating USC (hmm, on second thought, should I count the North champ over USC as a win?) — half of my defeats came at the hands of a Washington State team that closed out a surprising 8-4 season. Before taking a look at the season overall, let’s see how things shook out in November — my best picks, worst picks, and how my preseason expectations for each team compared with the reality.

Week 10

Best Picks

  • USC over Arizona (picked 42-27; actual 38-30)
  • Oregon over California (picked 57-28; actual 44-28)

Worst Pick

  • Arizona State over Washington State, 41-31 (actual: Washington State 38, Arizona State 24)
  • Washington over Utah, 22-20 (actual: Utah 34, Washington 23)

A 4-2 week was marred by, of course, Washington State’s home win against the Sun Devils — after falling behind 14-0 early — and Utah‘s victory over Washington. My best picks of the week narrowly missed being even better, as the Trojans (picked by 15 over Arizona) allowed a meaningless late touchdown after leading, 38-23. And while Oregon allowed 28 points to California (as predicted), the Ducks’ offense was still finding its way a bit.

Week 11

Best Picks

  • Oregon over Stanford (picked 30-24; actual 38-36)
  • California over Oregon State (picked 52-31; actual 54-24)
  • Arizona State over Washington (picked 38-23; actual 27-17)

Worst Pick

  • UCLA over Washington State, 48-22 (actual: Washington State 31, UCLA 27)

For the fourth time in 2015, I enjoyed a one-loss week, going 5-1. Unsurprisingly, it was the Cougars who kept me from my first perfect week of the season when they scored with three seconds to play at UCLA. Among the five winners, Oregon’s “upset” at Stanford was perhaps the most surprising after how the season’s first 10 weeks had played out. Meanwhile, my pick of Cal scoring 50+ in a blowout over Oregon State came true, and I missed the correct margin by just five points in Arizona State‘s win against the Huskies.

Week 12

Best Picks

  • Oregon over USC (picked 45-35; actual 48-28)
  • Arizona State over Arizona (picked 41-34; actual 52-37)
  • Stanford over California (picked 42-20; actual 35-22)

Worst Picks

  • Oregon State over Washington, 19-17 (actual: Washington 52, Oregon State 7)
  • Colorado over Washington State, 33-30 (actual: Washington State 27, Colorado 3)
  • Utah over UCLA, 26-16 (actual: UCLA 17, Utah 9)

The weekend of Nov. 21 tied for my toughest of the season (3-3). Incredibly, I picked the week’s marquee matchup (Oregon-USC) and two rivalry games (the Territorial Cup and the Big Game) correctly, while failing on what seemed to be less attractive games . The Beavers continued to somehow be worse than I imagined. And Washington State’s demolition of Colorado toppled one of my preseason upset picks.

Week 13

Best Picks

  • California over Arizona State (picked 45-42; actual 48-46)
  • Utah over Colorado (picked 31-19; actual 20-14)

Worst Pick

  • Washington over Washington State, 28-27 (actual: Washington, 45-10)

I never would have imagined that my only perfect week of 2015 would coincide with the last full slate of the year — especially considering the number of rivalry games, what became a huge Stanford-Notre Dame matchup, and a back-and-forth shootout in Berkeley. But not only did I go 6-0 — meaning that I ended up picking all five traditional conference rivalry outcomes correctly in 2015 — but I also just missed the final score in Cal’s “Pac-12 After Dark” win over ASU.

Week 14

Pac-12 Championship: Stanford 41, USC 22 (picked Oregon over USC, 38-31)

Honestly, after what the Trojans faced during the first month-and-a-half of the 2015 campaign, I’m as stunned as you are that I picked the South Division champion correctly.

November Expectations vs. Reality

With six incorrect picks in regular season games, once again there’s plenty of shakeup when looking at my expectations for each squad. As usual, let’s start from the Pacific Northwest and head down the coast before curling back inland.

  • Washington (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): Overachieving Utah and underachieving Oregon State (even with limited expectations) helped me fail on two Husky picks.
  • Washington State (picked 0-4, 0-4 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 3-1): The Cougars’ surprise season was reflected in three appearances in my “Worst Picks of the Week” column in November.
  • Oregon State (picked 1-3, 1-3 in Pac-12; reality 0-4, 0-4): My only miss on Oregon State in November: picking them to beat Washington at home. Instead, the Huskies led 45-0 at halftime.
  • Oregon (picked 4-0, 4-0 in Pac-12; reality 4-0, 4-0): My preseason pick of the Ducks as dominant finally came to fruition in a month where UO beat Stanford on the road and whipped USC in Eugene.
  • California (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): For a second consecutive month, I nailed all four Cal game predictions.
  • Stanford (picked 3-1, 3-1 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 3-1): Not counting Stanford’s appearance in the Pac-12 title game (replacing my preseason pick, Oregon), I notched four correct calls on the Cardinal.
  • UCLA (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): While the pick vs. reality looks good, I shanked two Bruins’ picks, with Washington State’s improvement and Utah’s loss of Devontae Booker biting me.
  • USC (picked 3-1, 3-1 in Pac-12; reality 3-1, 3-1 ): A perfect four-for-four (five-for-five, if you want to count the Trojans’ loss in the Pac-12 championship game).
  • Arizona State (picked 3-1, 3-1 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): Yep, Washington State again.
  • Arizona (picked 1-2, 1-2 in Pac-12; reality 1-2, 1-2): A perfect month of Wildcat selections.
  • Utah (picked 2-2, 2-2 in Pac-12; reality 2-2, 2-2): More muddled results with my Ute picks, missing their Washington and UCLA outcomes.
  • Colorado (picked 1-3, 1-3 in Pac-12; reality 0-4, 0-4): Those Cougs did it to me — and the Buffs — again.

2015 Pac-12 Picks: The Final Breakdown

If you’re still with me, here’s a look back at the full season results, in comparison to my preseason picks, with errors noted.

North Division (by order of finish)

  1. Stanford: Final record — 11-2, 8-1; preseason prediction — 10-2, 7-2 (second in North). Variance: lost at Northwestern; won at USC; advanced to and won Pac-12 Championship game vs. USC.
  2. Oregon: Final record — 9-3, 7-2; preseason prediction — 12-1, 9-0 (first in North). Variance: lost vs. Utah; lost vs. Washington State; failed to advance to Pac-12 Championship game.
  3. Washington State: Final record — 8-4, 6-3; preseason prediction — 3-9, 1-8 (sixth in North). Variance: lost vs. Portland State; won at Rutgers; won at Oregon; won at Arizona; won vs. Arizona State; won at UCLA; won vs. Colorado.
  4. California: Final record — 7-5, 4-5; preseason prediction — 6-6, 4-5 (third in North). Variance: won at Texas.
  5. Washington: Final record — 6-6, 4-5; preseason prediction — 4-8, 2-7 (fifth in North). Variance: won at USC; won vs. Arizona; lost vs. Utah; won at Oregon State.
  6. Oregon State: Final record — 2-10, 0-9; preseason prediction — 4-8, 2-7 (fourth in North). Variance: lost vs. Colorado; lost vs. Washington.

South Division (by order of finish)

  1. USC: Final record — 8-5, 6-3; preseason prediction — 10-3, 7-2 (first in South). Variance: lost vs. Stanford; won at Arizona State; lost vs. Washington; lost at Notre Dame.
  2. Utah: Final record — 9-3, 6-3; preseason prediction — 7-5, 4-5 (fifth in South). Variance: won at Oregon; won vs. Arizona State; won at Washington; lost vs. UCLA.
  3. UCLA: Final record — 8-4, 5-4; preseason prediction — 8-4, 5-4 (fourth in South). Variance: won at Arizona; lost vs. Arizona State; lost vs. Washington State; won at Utah.
  4. Arizona State: Final record — 6-6, 4-5; preseason prediction — 8-4, 6-3 (second in South). Variance: lost vs. USC; won at UCLA; lost at Utah; lost at Washington State.
  5. Arizona: Final record — 6-6, 3-6; preseason prediction — 8-4, 5-4 (third in South). Variance: lost vs. UCLA; won at Colorado; lost vs. Washington State; lost at Washington.
  6. Colorado: Final record — 4-9, 1-8; preseason prediction — 6-7, 2-7 (sixth in North). Variance: lost at Hawaii; lost vs. Arizona; won at Oregon State; lost at Washington State.

In the North, I was two points from picking California’s entire season correctly. Yes, I picked Texas to beat Cal by a point — but it was the Bears who pulled off a 45-44 win, saddling me with my only incorrect selection on the Berkeley schedule. Additionally, I missed only two outcomes each on the schedules of North stalwarts Stanford and Oregon.

Unsurprisingly, my worst set of results featured Washington State, which I picked to finish in the North cellar. I failed in picking seven of the Cougs’ 12 outcomes, but one of those has to be on them — their season-opening loss to FCS-level Portland State.

Intriguingly, I had exactly four incorrect selections for all six South Division clubs, while picking the division winner (USC) correctly. However, with some minor shuffling behind the Trojans, I correctly picked five South squads for bowl eligibility.

2015 Pac-12 Bowl Picks

Finally, with a record 10 conference clubs reaching the postseason, here are my picks for each bowl, with the slate getting underway tomorrow (College Football Playoff rankings reflected).

Saturday, Dec. 19

  • Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque: Arizona 41, New Mexico 30
  • Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas: (22) Utah 23, BYU 21

Saturday, Dec. 26

  • Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso: Miami 35, Washington State 31
  • Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dallas: Washington 31, Southern Mississippi 21
  • Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara: UCLA 38, Nebraska 27

Tuesday, Dec. 29

  • Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth: California 42, Air Force 28

Wednesday, Dec. 30

  • National Funding Holiday Bowl, San Diego: (25) USC 24, Wisconsin 20

Friday, Jan. 1, 2016

  • Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual, Pasadena: (6) Stanford 30, (5) Iowa 24

Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016

  • Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio: (15) Oregon 43, (11) TCU 37
  • Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, Phoenix: West Virginia 34, Arizona State 31

Thanks for reading. I look forward to being back for the 2016 season!

Jan 10

Recapping My 2014 USC/Pac-12 Coverage and Picks

Enjoying a USC rally at Quincy Market in Boston, a day before one of my worst picks of 2014.

Enjoying a USC rally in Boston, a day before one of my worst picks of 2014.

With Monday’s College Football Championship game marking the end of the 2014 season, last week I began to look back at some of the content I produced for USCFootball.com, the Scout Network website dedicated to wall-to-wall coverage of USC Trojans football. I’ve done in-season work for the site since 2000, through its three iterations: starting out as an independent start-up; transitioning to become part of the Rivals Network; and, just prior to this season, joining Scout.

This one’s for my loyal football content readers — especially the stat and result geeks. So, be forewarned!

If you’re a reader, you know that — for the 14th consecutive season — I produced my annual Pac-12 preview where I pick a winner and a score for each game played by a conference school, prior to the season. This year’s preview can be found here: 2014 Pac-12 “Picking the Winners” Game-by-Game Preview.

In 2014, I picked winners in 67 of the 92 Pac-12 games played (including Oregon’s win in the Pac-12 Championship game; I had them beating USC, rather than Arizona but it’s crazy what one completed Hail Mary can mean). That 67-25 mark means I predicted 72.8 percent of the games correctly, slightly off from the combined total of my prior 13 seasons: 74.6 percent. It represented a much steeper drop from 2013, when I posted my second-best season ever (81.3 percent), but was still far better than 2012 — my worst season to date (64.1 percent).

Colorado, working hard at justifying my season's picks for them.

Colorado worked hard to justify my 2014 picks.

Digging into the numbers, I found some intriguing notes and trends:

  • My four best records in selecting specific teams’ games included: Oregon (12-1); UCLA (10-2); Colorado (10-2); and Washington (10-3). In a way, you can kind of throw out UO and CU. I picked Oregon to win all 13, so their one loss (to Arizona) was, unsurprisingly, my only incorrect pick. Thanks Ducks! At the other end, I had Colorado winning four total games and one conference game. Turns out, they simply just lost two of the games I picked them to win to fade to a rough 2-10, 0-9 finish. The success with the Bruins and UW was a little more noteworthy. First, the Huskies: I selected their first seven games correctly before a loss to Arizona State ended that run. Two weeks later, UW lost at UCLA — one of my two incorrect Bruin choices. Finally, in August, I thought the Huskies might struggle in the Apple Cup at Pullman — but that was before Wazzu lost quarterback Connor Halliday against USC and limped to a tough finish. Before the season, I picked UW to finish the regular season at 9-4, 5-4; they finished 8-5, 4-5. Aside from the aforementioned defeat of Washington, my only other UCLA error was when the Bruins were shocked at home by Utah. That 10-2 mark — with one incorrect pick on each side of the docket — meant that my prediction for a 9-3, 6-3 UCLA regular season was dead on.
  • The only team that I whiffed on more than I got right in my preseason picks? Utah (5-7). Suffice it to say, I did not believe in the Utes prior to the season’s kickoff. I had them finishing 3-9, 1-8 and tied for last in the Pac-12 South with Colorado. Instead, Utah finished the regular season with an 8-4, 5-4 mark and impressive late wins at UCLA and at home against USC.
  • There was only one other conference team for which I didn’t pick a correct result in either seven or eight contests: Cal (9-3). The Golden Bears bounced back in a big way from a dismal 2013, falling just short of bowl eligibility at 5-7, 3-6 — including tough, close losses at Arizona (49-45 on a game-ending Hail Mary) and at home to UCLA (36-34) and BYU (42-35, in the closing game of the regular season). I picked against Cal in all three, helping my overall success.
  • The 8-4s and 7-5s. As for the rest of my picks, here’s how it broke down by team: Arizona (8-4); Oregon State (8-4); Stanford (8-4); USC (8-4);
    USC's win over Fresno State was one of eight Trojan games I picked correctly in my Pac-12 preview.

    Nelson Agholor for 6. USC’s win over Fresno State was one of eight Trojan games picked correctly in my Pac-12 preview.

    Arizona State (7-5); and Washington State (7-5). Among those teams’ overall records, I whiffed pretty clearly on Arizona (picked 6-6, 3-6; they finished 10-2, 7-2 prior to the championship game and bowl season), Stanford (picked 11-1, 8-1; finished 7-5, 5-4) and Washington State (picked 7-5, 4-5; finished 3-9, 2-7).

  • Eight best single game picks of 2014

    • Sept. 6: I picked Oregon over Michigan State by 17 — 38-21. The final margin: 19, in a 46-27 victory.
    • Sept. 13: I picked Arizona State over Colorado, 38-24. The actual final score? Yep, 38-24.
    • Sept. 27: I picked Cal to beat Colorado by a field goal in overtime (37-34). The result? A higher scoring game with the same outcome: Cal by a field goal in OT, 59-56.
    • Sept. 27: I picked Stanford to edge Washington, 20-16, just off from the real result: Stanford 20, Washington 13.
    • Sept. 27 (good week, huh?): I selected USC to defeat Oregon State by 22 (45-23). The Trojans won by 25 (35-10).
    • Sept. 27 (yep, again): I picked Washington State over Utah by three (38-35). The Cougs won, 28-27. Suffice it to say, with how both teams’ seasons went — and my acumen in picking them — this might be the most shocking of the “best” picks listed.
    • Oct. 11: Oregon beat UCLA, 42-30, in Pasadena. Prior to the season, I’d selected the Ducks as 44-35 victors.
    • Oct. 11: I selected Stanford to beat Washington State by 17 (41-24). The Cardinal did, in fact, beat the Cougars by 17 (34-17)
  • Eight worst single game picks of 2014

    • Sept. 20: Yep, I underestimated Utah — and probably gave good old Brady Hoke a tad too much credit. The pick: Michigan 35-23. The reality: Utah 26-10  — a 28-point differential.
    • Oct. 2: I lost one Oregon game all season — and it was a doozy. I picked the Ducks by 30 over Arizona, making the Wildcats’ 31-24 win my third worst point differential this season: 37. Guess I should have saved the 30-point win call for the conference title game.
    • Oct. 4: My miscalculation of the Cougars’ progress under Mike Leach resonated in a big way when Cal upended Wazzu 60-59. My preseason pick: Washington State, 52-24. Ugh.
    • Oct. 4 (yes, this weekend was the payback for the great Sept. 27): One of my two incorrect UCLA picks was almost as rough as that Oregon miscue above. I picked the Bruins to top Utah by 31. But the Utes had other ideas, winning 30-28.
    • Oct. 25: By the time this game happened, the outcome wasn’t much of a surprise. But, since I’d picked the Cougs (again) to beat Arizona by six, the Wildcats’ 22-point drubbing lands on this list.
    • Nov. 1: The pick: Oregon State 51, Cal 27. The reality: Cal 45, Oregon State 31. That’s right, this game’s No. 2 on my worst point differential chart at 38.
    • Nov. 15: Stanford looked to be a solid choice against the Utes prior to the season — as did many others. About a 31-point pick. So, of course, the Utes won by 3 in double OT.
    • Nov. 22: Saving the worst for last in a couple of ways! One of the few times I actually picked the Utes prior to the season — by a touchdown over Arizona — what do they do? How about go out and lose at home, 42-10? Sure, why not! Utah was my kryptonite in 2014, even when I picked them to win. In this one, they were responsible for my single worst point differential of the season: 39.

***

Adoree Jackson was still a blur, even to my best camera and lens, on his receiving TD in the Holiday Bowl.

Adoree Jackson was still a blur, even to my best camera and lens, on his receiving TD in the Holiday Bowl.

Additionally, I handle USCFootball.com‘s official weekly game and opponent previews throughout the season. The Trojans survived the final season of sanction-hampered personnel, finishing with a 9-4 mark (6-3 in the Pac-12 South, good for a second-place tie) — including big road wins at Stanford and Arizona, as well as a dominant victory over rival Notre Dame and a Holiday Bowl win over a game Nebraska squad in a thriller. “A thriller” became perhaps too familiar a description for many USC fans in 2014. Not only did USC hold off Stanford, Arizona and Nebraska in the final moments, but they were also victimized by those “thrills,” losing twice in the waning seconds — at home, on a final-play Hail Mary against Arizona State and at Utah on a Utes drive that was capped by a one-yard TD pass with eight seconds to play.

Those losses plus a truly baffling and unacceptable upset loss at Boston College in week three and a throttling at the hands of crosstown rival UCLA kept the Trojans’ season from being a “total success,” as contended by Coach Steve Sarkisian. However, given USC’s dwindling number of available scholarship players throughout the season, there is hope for the future as the Trojans begin to restock with their first full scholarship class since 2011 set to sign on Feb. 4. And if you believe what you’re reading on USCFootball.com, that class could be something else.

Here are links to each of my USC game previews for 2014:

August 30: (15) USC vs. Fresno State

My preview pick of the Trojans by 4 over the Cardinal was nearly dead on.

My preview pick of the Trojans by 4 over the Cardinal was nearly dead on.

September 6: (14) USC @ (13/10) Stanford

September 13: (9/10) USC @ Boston College

September 27: (18/22) USC vs. Oregon State

October 4: (16/20) USC vs. (24) Arizona State

October 11: USC @ (10/13) Arizona

October 18: (22/25) USC vs. Colorado

October 25: (20/21) USC @ (19) Utah

November 1: USC @Washington State

November 13: USC vs. California

November 22: (19/24) USC @ (9/11) UCLA

November 29: USC vs. Notre Dame

December 27: (24) USC vs. (25) Nebraska, Holiday Bowl, San Diego

Taking a look at my record with the picks in these week-by-week previews, I finished with eight correct and five incorrect — about right considering the Trojans’ topsy-turvy season.

The crowd reacts as, in the background, George Farmer scores USC's first TD against Notre Dame.

The crowd reacts as, in the background, George Farmer scores against Notre Dame.

Let’s take a look at the misses:

  • I wasn’t alone in thinking the then-No. 9 Trojans would roll at Boston College. That game is still one of the more baffling I’ve attended. USC jumped to a 17-6 lead and looked on its way to the expected blowout before just falling completely flat for about 35 minutes. Ugly.
  • Up next, USC’s embarrassing Hail Mary loss to ASU. Nuff said.
  • The following week, after such a ridiculous defeat, I picked Arizona to beat the Trojans in Tucson. The Wildcats were coming off their big win at Oregon and I expected the momentum on both teams’ sidelines — plus the home field — would be enough for Arizona to come out on top. I will tell you, a small courtyard condo complex in Cambridge, Mass., got an unexpected 1:45 a.m. wake-up call when Cats kicker Casey Skowron shanked an easy game-winning field goal attempt, giving the Trojans the win. I was staying there after attending a wedding in Boston the day before, and I kinda forgot my surroundings (and the reality of the Eastern time zone) for a minute.
  • USC gave a game to Utah. My kryptonite, I tell ya.
  • And, though I smartly picked the Bruins in my Pac-12 preview, I went with my heart in the game-week preview, picking the Trojans to win in Pasadena. Bad call.

The best two picks in the weekly previews: USC by four at Stanford (the Trojans won by 3); and the Trojans by 22 over Colorado (USC won by 28).

The worst two picks in these previews: Obviously, BC (34-point differential) and UCLA (24-point differential).

My closest calls on USC total points in weekly previews: 35 vs. Oregon State (exactly right, as USC scored 35); 42 at Washington State (44); 31 at Arizona (28); 24 at Utah (21).

My closest calls on USC points allowed in weekly previews: 30 vs. Cal (exactly right, as the Bears posted 30); 17 vs. Fresno State (13); and 19 at Utah (24).

One last intriguing note: in 2014, the Trojans averaged 35.8 points per game and allowed 25.2 points per game. My score predictions, when averaged out, weren’t far off — USC 36.7, opponents 24.4 — essentially giving the Trojans about a point of extra credit in either direction.

***

If you’re one of my football content readers, thanks for spending your time on my stories. I hope you’re looking forward to the 2015 season as much as I am. In the meantime, here’s one last prediction for this season:

Oregon 46, Ohio State 37

Leonard Williams takes the sword one last time in San Diego. Fight On in the NFL!

Leonard Williams takes the sword one last time. Fight On in the NFL!

Dec 13

Photo-A-Day 2013: Week 48

Thanksgiving week became Christmas time as I stuck around L.A. for another week near the end of 2013. Here’s the week that was Nov. 25-Dec. 1.

25-NOV-2013: Glamour shot of a lens cap?

25-NOV-2013: Glamour shot of a lens cap?

26-NOV-2013: So much Thanksgiving lurking in the fridge!

26-NOV-2013: So much Thanksgiving lurking in the fridge!

27-NOV-2013: This pumpkin colada at Caña is better than what you're drinking the night before Thanksgiving.

27-NOV-2013: This pumpkin colada at Caña is better than what you’re drinking the night before Thanksgiving.

28-NOV-2013: Turkey: ready for feasting!

28-NOV-2013: Turkey: ready for feasting!

29-NOV-2013: Reflections from a newly cleaned hardwood floor.

29-NOV-2013: Reflections from a newly cleaned hardwood floor.

30-NOV-2013: These were just about the last fireworks for USC fans at the annual Crosstown Showdown.

30-NOV-2013: These were just about the last fireworks for USC fans at the annual Crosstown Showdown.

1-DEC-2013: Bringing the decorations out of storage. Christmastime!

1-DEC-2013: Bringing the decorations out of storage. Christmastime!