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No. 10 Washington rides defense to win over slumping Arizona State

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Take one of the Pac-12’s best rushing attacks, mix in the league’s best receiver on the other sideline and stir after dark to get some wild, offensive-laden craziness in Seattle, right? Uh, not even close.

No. 10 Washington rode their incredible defense and used a handful of big plays from their offensive veterans to secure a bruising 27-20 win on Saturday night and drop the fighting Herm Edwards’ of Arizona State to a slumping .500 on the season.

Huskies QB Jake Browning crossed the 10,000 yard passing plateau for his college career and continued closing in on several school records with an efficient 202 yard game. That included three excellent throws into the end zone for touchdowns, one to Aaron Fulleranother to Ty Jones and the best of the bunch in the fourth quarter to help salt the game away to a tip-toeing Cade Otton.

The signal-caller’s play balanced out another solid (if not quite the usual spectacular) effort from Washington’s one-two punch in the backfield as Myles Gaskin recorded 86 yards on the ground and Salvon Ahmed chipped in with 71 more on limited carries. The team punted just three times all game and probably could have gotten off to a better start had their signature Chris Petersen trick play on the first play of the game — in this case, a double-pass — not been picked off.

The real star of the show might have been the defense though. Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven looks like a budding All-American and finished with 20 tackles and two forced fumbles while the entire front seven was a load for the Sun Devils to handle. Eno Benjamin had just one long run on his way to 104 yards plus a TD and otherwise had to fight for running room on every carry.

He was still a bright spot for ASU all things considered… namely how rough of an outing it was for QB Manny Wilkins (104 yards passing) and star receiver N'Keal Harry (five catches, 20 yards). The entire group seemingly continued their struggles from last week’s loss against San Diego State and will now need to find some way to regroup with the heart of their Pac-12 slate coming up next month. After grabbing the nation’s attention with a victory over Michigan State, now will really be the time we’ll find out what Edwards can do as a college coach as he tries to rebound from a losing streak for the first time.

The Huskies, meanwhile, can rest easy knowing they didn’t get swept up in the wild nature of the day in college football with so many ranked teams falling to unranked squads. It was by no means a crisp outing for Petersen’s group but it is a precious win nevertheless and does set up a very intriguing game next Saturday night against a ranked BYU squad. At this point late into the night on Saturday, surviving and advancing is nothing to overlook and, thanks mostly to their defense, Washington did just that against Arizona State.

Sparty No: Arizona State rallies to pull off the upset of No. 15 Michigan State

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Herm Edwards heard all the naysayers about his hire at Arizona State. So did the rest of his football team.

All had a nice laugh Saturday night about those doom-and-gloom predictions while celebrating a surprisingly entertaining 16-13 upset of No. 15 Michigan State that gave the Pac-12 a badly needed marquee non-conference win in the process.

Not surprisingly, quarterback Manny Wilkins led the way offensively for ASU as he threw for 380 yards, a touchdown and an interception. While he was hit-or-miss with his downfield passing most of the night, he came up with some big plays down the stretch and was the team’s leading rusher on the night as well. Kyle Williams was his favorite target early but as the game wore on it was star wideout N'Keal Harry who started to gradually take over as the clock started to wind down and finished with 89 yards and a leaping touchdown catch.

Though it wasn’t an official stat, Harry also drew numerous pass interference penalties and was the focus of the Spartans defense from the opening kickoff.

The outcome spoiled the homecoming of Phoenix native Brian Lewerke, who was MSU’s only source of offense because they couldn’t really run the football at all. The quarterback finished with a solid 314 yards with a touchdown but threw an early interception in the end zone and didn’t get an opportunity to lead a game-winning drive like he did last week.

Mark Dantonio’s defense played fairly well all night but allowed 13 points in the fourth quarter and gave up a few big plays that led to ASU’s game-winning field goal at the gun. The loss is a big blow to a team that was a dark horse to make the College Football Playoff considering how many starters returned from last season’s 10-win team and the fact that a brutal Big Ten slate awaits over the coming months. The inability to finish will certainly be brought up on the long flight back to East Lansing as a season filled with such promise has so far fallen short after two lackluster performances in 2018.

If there’s one silver lining for the green and white, at least they’re not completely out of the hunt for hardware with a number of opportunities to get top 25 wins ahead but they’ll be in no position to do so if they don’t play better than they have been.

As for Edwards, the victory might just make his team the favorite in the suddenly wide-open Pac-12 South this year. The Sun Devils have a feisty defense with an active front-seven, a veteran quarterback who has knocked off his share of top 15 teams and a host of playmakers like Neal who are electrifying in space.

Suddenly all those laughing at ASU for making the outside the box hire of Edwards are now very much taking Arizona State seriously. As well they should after knocking off a team like Michigan State.

Heat not fazing No. 15 Michigan State as they hold slim lead Arizona State at halftime

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Triple-digit temperatures? No problem. Finding success in the red zone? A little more of an issue for No. 15 Michigan State as they held a slim 3-0 lead over Arizona State in Tempe at halftime.

Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke was able to move the ball at times and finished with 121 yards on 11-of-16 passing but threw an interception off a tipped pass in the end zone to otherwise mar a solid half. Running the ball was another thing for MSU as the team averaged just 3.9 yards a carry and saw both Connor Heyward and LJ Scott held in check.

A lot of that had to do with the Sun Devils defense looking quite fast and physical against the visitors from the North. Khaylan Thomas was quite active with four tackles while Dasmond Tautalatasi came up with the interception.

Their effort really kept ASU in the game as the offense showed plenty of flashes but shot themselves in the foot in critical points during the half. Manny Wilkins finished with 159 yards and a pick through the air and was also the team’s leading rusher. Star receiver N'Keal Harry was also fairly quiet with just three catches for 37 yards but did find a few gaps in the Spartans’ coverage.

Needless to say, those expecting a shootout in this one were mistaken — at least for a half. We’ll see if things pick up after the break in this very intriguing matchup between the Pac-12 and Big Ten late into the night.

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: Pac-12

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If there’s any conference that looks forward to the fresh slate of a new season in 2018, it’s the Pac-12. The league missed the College Football Playoff for the second time in four tries last year and endured a disastrous — to put it mildly — bowl season that saw teams go 1-8 overall with few competitive contests. That’s all in the past though, as commissioner Larry Scott and his 12 schools look to turn the page and underscore that things on the gridiron out West are not quite as dour as the national narrative suggests. There are a handful of legitimate Playoff contenders entering this year’s campaign, a deep middle-class of teams sure to complicate division races and a handful of budding superstars that should factor heavily in the race for the Heisman Trophy once again. While it’s true there’s nowhere, really, to go but up for the Pac-12 in 2018, the conference appears primed to get back on track going forward.

Leading the charge will once again be Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies, who are on paper the Pac-12’s only truly elite team and a heavy favorite to win the conference crown and make the final four. The group up in Seattle checks off all the boxes you’re looking for in a front-runner, including a savvy quarterback in Jake Browning, elite skill position talent like tailback Myles Gaskin, a stout defense and the best depth in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They’ll have a chance right away to cement their name in the national conversation with a trip to Atlanta to open against Auburn in Week 1, and will also benefit from hosting rival Stanford at home late in the season. Speaking of the Cardinal, they’ll be a contender once again thanks in part to what should be the school’s best offense since the days of Andrew Luck throwing passes on the Farm. Bryce Love headlines the group as a dynamic threat to score from just about everywhere but quarterback K.J. Costello should be able to take some of the pressure off in his second season as the established starter at quarterback. If there’s one area of concern for David Shaw’s team it’s on defense, which is something you could also say for the rest of the teams in the league as well.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 North, Oregon should be a team that is a regular in the top 25 for Mario Cristobal’s first full year in charge up in Eugene. Quarterback Justin Herbert, when healthy, has the look of a first-round pick behind center and the team should benefit from a relatively stable offseason after so much change the past few years. After the Ducks though, the rest of the division is in various stages of rebuilding mode. Cal was better than their 5-7 record from 2017 suggests and returns most of their offense, but it will still be tough to be a week-in, week-out threat in the Pac-12 until head coach Justin Wilcox can add to the depth on defense. Washington State will always be a pesky thorn in everybody’s side as long as Mike Leach is in charge but the Cougars are facing massive coaching turnover (six new assistants) and it remains to be seen if the program is truly over the tragic loss of quarterback Tyler Hilinski. Oregon State figures to once again remain in the cellar even with a bit of a jolt from new coach Jonathan Smith.

While there’s a somewhat clear pecking order in the North, the Pac-12 South is about as wide-open as the division ever has been. USC once again will trot out the most talent of any of the six teams, but there’s still plenty of skepticism over the future of head coach Clay Helton and just how much depth the Trojans will have come the end of the season. Seeking not to repeat the quarterback controversy from two years ago, Helton has opted to go with true freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback — a move that could pay off longterm but might lead to issues early as the signal-caller who should still be in high school adjusts to life in the Pac-12. Southern Cal remains the preseason media favorite to win the South but the door is certainly open for two others in Utah and Arizona.

In Salt Lake City, it might just be now or never for Kyle Whittingham’s squad despite a tough slate of crossover games (Oregon/Washington) on the schedule. The Utes get both the Wildcats and Trojans at Rice-Eccles and easily sport the South’s stingiest defense. The offense, a constant issue ever since joining the Pac-12, could be much more consistent than in years past thanks to a backfield that sports second-year QB Tyler Huntley and the terrific one-two punch of Zack Moss and Armand Shyne. Speaking of good second-year signal-callers, Kevin Sumlin finds himself in a great position as a first-year head coach at Arizona by having Heisman candidate Khalil Tate to work with. The bulk of a young defense is also back in Tucson and if the new staff can help bring Tate along as a passer, that elusive trip to the Rose Bowl might not be so far out of reach for the Wildcats like it once was.

Despite all that firepower to work with and high expectations though, Sumlin won’t be the most-watched first-year coach in the division thanks to the arrival of Chip Kelly at UCLA and the ever-quotable Herm Edwards at Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a chance to surprise a bit with quarterback Manny Wilkins under center and a budding superstar in wideout N'Keal Harry, but the team has one of the most difficult schedules in the country and a huge unknown in the coaching staff. Not much is expected of the Bruins in Kelly’s first season given numerous roster issues in Westwood, but nobody is putting it past the spread offense guru to get the team to be competitive in short order. Figuring out who starts at quarterback from a number of options is task No. 1 for the powder blues, but issues abound along the offensive line, running back and on defense. Some of those same issues are present up at Colorado as well, which looks ticketed toward another down season and probably needs to make a bowl game at a minimum to save Mike MacIntyre’s job in Boulder going forward.

 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

Pac-12 North

1. Washington
2. Stanford
3. Oregon
4. Cal
5. Washington State
6. Oregon State

Pac-12 South

1. Utah
2. Arizona
3. USC
4. Arizona State
5. UCLA
6. Colorado

IN SHORT…

Maxwell Award watch list highlighted by Bryce Love, Jonathan Taylor, Khalil Tate, McKenzie Milton

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The height of watch list season is upon us as the new week begins. The Maxwell Football Club got things kicked off this week with the release of the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award watch lists. Among the many names appearing on the organization’s watch list for its player of the year award are semifinalists from last year’s award; Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Stanford running back Bryce Love, UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

Alabama landed three players on the watch list, with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running back Damien Harris also joining Hurts on the watch list. Other players who played for the College Football Playoff participants last season include Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, Kelly Bryant, and Travis Etienne, Georgia’s Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift,  Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson and Kyler Murray.

Last year’s Maxwell Award winner was Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Big Ten currently has the longest drought without a Maxwell Award winner among the power conferences. Penn State’s Larry Johnson was the last Big Ten player to win the award, doing so in 2002.

Here is this year’s watch list for the Maxwell Award:

RB Cam Akers, Florida State
RB Darius Anderson, TCU
RB Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma
RB Alex Barnes, Kansas State
RB KirVonte Benson, Georgia Tech
QB Jake Bentley, South Carolina
DE Nick Bosa, Ohio State
WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
RB Spencer Brown, UAB
QB Jake Browning, Washington
QB Kelly Bryant, Clemson
RB Stephen Carr, USC
QB KJ Costello, Stanford
RB AJ Dillon, Boston College
RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State
QB Eric Dungey, Syracuse
RB Travis Etienne, Clemson
QB Caleb Evans, ULM
QB Mason Fine, North Texas
QB Ryan Finley, N.C. State
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
QB Deondre Francois, Florida State
QB Jake Fromm, Georgia
QB Ty Gangi, Nevada
WR James Gardner, Miami (Ohio)
RB Myles Gaskin, Washington
RB James Gilbert, Ball State
QB Will Grier, West Virginia
QB Justice Hansen, Arkansas State
RB Damien Harris, Alabama
WR N'Keal Harry, Arizona State
RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis
QB Justin Herbert, Oregon
RB Karan Higdon, Michigan
RB Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
RB Travis Homer, Miami
QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama
QB Josh Jackson, Virginia Tech
WR Anthony Johnson, Buffalo
RB Ty Johnson, Maryland
QB Daniel Jones, Duke
RB Xavier Jones, SMU
RB Patrick Laird, California
QB Brian Lewerke, Michigan State
QB Drew Lock, Missouri
RB Bryce Love, Stanford
QB TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech
QB Marcus McMaryion, Fresno State
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State
QB McKenzie Milton, UCF
QB Steven Montez, Colorado
RB David Montgomery, Iowa State
RB Jalin Moore, Appalachian State
RB Zack Moss, Utah
QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
QB Frank Nutile, Temple
DT Ed Oliver, Houston
QB Shea Patterson, Michigan
QB Malcolm Perry, Navy
WR Tony Pollard, Memphis
WR Ahmmon Richards, Miami
QB Armani Rogers, UNLV
QB Nathan Rourke, Ohio
QB Brett Rypien, Boise State
WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
RB LJ Scott, Michigan State
QB Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
WR David Sills, West Virginia
RB Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic
RB Rodney Smith, Minnesota
RB Benny Snell, Kentucky
QB Nathan Stanley, Iowa
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
QB Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia
QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
QB Khalil Tate, Arizona
RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
QB Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
RB Juwan Washington, San Diego State
DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
QB Manny Wilkins, Arizona State
RB Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
QB Brandon Wimbush, Notre Dame
RB Darnell Woolfolk, Army