Pac-12 Football: Top 5 Games from 2013 Season
Back-and-forth contests between evenly matched competitors and outstanding individual performances helped define a banner year in Pac-12 football.
Unpredictable and exciting, the conference's best games were microcosms of the entire 2013 campaign.
Here are a few honorable mentions that didn't quite make the cut:
- Oct. 12—Utah 27, Stanford 21: Utah's stingy defense held steady at the goal line, denying Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan on fourth down to preserve arguably the biggest upset of the 2013 Pac-12 season.
- Nov. 7—Stanford 26, Oregon 20: Oregon's 20-0 run in the late fourth quarter made Stanford sweat out what was an otherwise thoroughly dominant performance from the Cardinal in a showdown of teams ranked in the Top Five at the time of their meeting.
- Nov. 9—Arizona State 20, Utah 19: The Utes nearly made it 2-0 against Pac-12 divisional champions in 2013, leading South winner Arizona State deep into the fourth quarter. Quarterback Taylor Kelly responded to a rough start with two game-saving touchdowns in the final period. This game was one of the quintessential examples of big-time players making big-time plays, as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton intercepted Utah quarterback Travis Wilson to preserve the victory.
- Nov. 15—UCLA 41, Washington 31: Although he'd won Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week for his performance the game prior—a win at Arizona—the legend of UCLA freshman linebacker Myles Jack as a two-way star grew to mythic portions with his four-touchdown performance against Washington.
- Nov. 23—Washington State 49, Utah 37: Washington State punched its ticket to a bowl game for the first time since 2003 in a shootout win over Utah. The Cougars jumped ahead 21-0, but Utah battled back to within six points in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Connor Halliday's 71-yard touchdown connection with wide receiver Dom Williams slammed the door on Utah and sent Washington State to the New Mexico Bowl.
- Nov. 23—Arizona 42, Oregon 16: Furious, nail-biting finishes dominated the Pac-12's offering of best games in 2013. Arizona's shocking romp over Oregon was not such a game. The Wildcats ambushed the Ducks early and led wire-to-wire; however, this game is worthy of honorable mention simply for how bizarre it was, starting with Scooby Wright's interception of Marcus Mariota on a diving tip from Shaq Richardson.
5. Oct. 5: Stanford 31, Washington 28
Washington played arguably its best all-around game of the Steve Sarkisian period at Stanford. The Huskies defense was stout, limiting the Cardinal to just 279 yards of total offense.
The defensive effort was reminiscent of Washington's 17-13 defeat of Stanford a year prior—only this time, the Huskies offense provided more firepower. Quarterback Keith Price went 33-of-48 for 350 yards passing with two touchdowns, leading Washington to 485 total yards of offense.
Of course, football is a game of three phases, and Washington lost the third. Stanford's Ty Montgomery broke two big returns—one went for a touchdown, and the other set up what proved to be the game-winner, running back Tyler Gaffney's touchdown rush.
Washington was on the wrong end of another big play, when Price committed his lone error of the night. He was intercepted in the red zone by linebacker A.J. Tarpley.
What's a close game without some controversy?
On Washington's final drive, the Huskies attempted a fourth-down conversion, initially called a catch by one official but overruled on video review.
That controversy paled in comparison to what followed between head coaches Sarkisian and David Shaw, though.
Sarkisian's thinly veiled accusations of Stanford players faking injuries to slow the game's tempo prompted Shaw to open his teleconference call the following Tuesday with some stern words. Their personal rivalry spilled into one of the Pac-12's better team rivalries the following season, represented in the No. 4 best game of 2013.
4. Nov. 16: USC 20, Stanford 17
Stanford vs. USC has grown into one of the Pac-12's most intriguing rivalries over the last half-decade, due in part to the consistently competitive showdowns between the teams in every season since 2010.
The Cardinal came out on the winning end of three straight single-digit point decisions from 2010 through 2012, but USC finally returned the favor this November.
It's a classic defensive struggle between two teams built around their defenses, and USC generated enough offensive heroics on its final drive to end a four-game losing skid to Stanford.
No play was quite as heroic as wide receiver Marqise Lee's.
Playing on an injured leg, Lee caught a pass from quarterback Cody Kessler on fourth down to keep possession, eventually setting up Andre Heidari's 47-yard, game-winning field goal.
The rivalry might get just a little bit more heated in 2014, with Sarkisian coming down from Washington to lead the Trojans. USC's Sept. 6 trek to Stanford is also the first game of the 2014 Pac-12 season.
Talk about starting strong.
3. Nov. 23: Arizona State 38, UCLA 33
This was everything a fan could want from a showdown of teams in championship contention.
Arizona State went into the Rose Bowl on Nov. 23 with one goal: to return there in six weeks. An Arizona State win over the Bruins guaranteed the Sun Devils the Pac-12 South crown, with the possibility of hosting the conference championship game.
They certainly came out with the tenacity of a team in pursuit of a title, deluging UCLA 35-13 in the first half. Five Sun Devils reached the end zone, including linebacker Carl Bradford on an interception of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley.
The Bruins answered the bell in the second half, notching two quick third-quarter touchdowns to pull within a possession. Hundley later led another scoring drive that pulled UCLA within five points with more than 11 minutes remaining.
Its offense sputtering, Arizona State's defense buckled down for the final two UCLA possessions. First the Bruins field-goal attempt kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed, then the Sun Devils sacked Hundley after two penalties to force an impossible 4th-and-35.
"I’ve been [coaching] for 28 years and it’s the most impressive display of heart by a football team that I’ve ever seen. I’m just so proud of these guys," an emotional Arizona State head coach Todd Graham said in his postgame press conference, per UCLABruins.com.
2. Sept. 14: Oregon State 51, Utah 48 (OT)
If you missed this wild shootout, it's understandable—with overtime, the Beavers and Utes didn't wrap up until after 2 a.m. ET; however, those intrepid college football watchers who put off sleep until the wee hours were treated to the most exciting game of the 2013 Pac-12 season.
Oregon State built a 17-point lead in the early moments of the third quarter on defensive back Sean Martin's interception returned for a touchdown.
Utah steadily battled back and eventually took the lead in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard Travis Wilson touchdown run.
"That was really a gutsy, gutsy game; and their team too, they played like crazy," Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said via OSUBeavers.com. "It was a great football game and our kids just would not lose. That’s what I really appreciate."
No performance was any gutsier than those of quarterbacks Wilson and Sean Mannion.
Wilson passed for two touchdowns and rushed for three.
Mannion was lights out with 443 yards and five touchdowns, three of which went to Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks. All three of those connections came after halftime, including the go-ahead score with just 2:29 in regulation and the game-winner in overtime.
1. Nov. 29: Oregon 36, Oregon State 35
That cliche of throwing out the records when rivals meet certainly applied to the 2013 Civil War.
Oregon State came into Autzen Stadium riding a four-game losing streak, the last game of which was a 69-27 debacle against Washington. The Beavers were sputtering both on the season and in the rivalry series, having lost the previous five.
Oregon also had something to prove after losing two of its previous three matchups. Motivation wasn't going to be an issues for the Ducks—not after theirs was questioned in the wake of their 42-16 loss to Arizona the previous week.
Understandably, Las Vegas tabbed the Ducks as 21.5-point favorites, and they responded with a 14-0 start.
Rather than take another lump on its way out of a disappointing final stretch, though, the Beavers battled behind a surprisingly rejuvenated running game—the most maligned part of Oregon State's season.
Oregon State built leads of three and five points in the second half, including a 35-30 advantage with less than two minutes remaining on Victor Bolden's 25-yard end-zone scamper. His touchdown was a classic example of leaving an opponent too much time on the clock.
"We are all pretty confident with our offense so right when we hit the field we knew we were going to do our thing. We knew we had to get the first downs and also stay mindful of the clock," running back Thomas Tyner said, per GoDucks.com.
Playing on an injured wheel as he had throughout the month, quarterback Marcus Mariota engineered a nine-play, 83-yard drive in just 1:09, culminating in the winning strike to wide receiver Josh Huff.
Huff was at the center of criticism regarding the Ducks' motivation at Arizona, so his nine-reception, 186-yard and three-touchdown performance was the perfect response.
"It is surreal. I didn't imagine my last game would come down like that. It is everything I dreamed of as a little kid," Huff said, according to GoDucks.com. "My dream finally came true. To leave on that note is pretty amazing."
The victory ensured Huff and the rest of Oregon's outgoing senior class a perfect career record against the Beavers.