Sunday, August 19, 2012
Elephant in the room for Pac-12 teams
The Pac-12 football season is set to begin in two weeks so I'm sure you are reading a ton of previews on the teams in the conference. What isn't brought up in these previews is the Elephant in the room on these programs. The Elephant in the room saying is when there is something everyone knows about but it is never brought up. Each team in this conference has an elephant in the room. Some teams elephant in the room isn't much while others looms to be pretty large. Some teams have an obvious Elephant in the room to that particular fan base while for some teams this will hopefully wake you up on these teams. I read these previews and I'm frustrated that many tip toe around the Elephant in the room while some may just be oblivious to the Elephant in the room. As usual I'm sure you'll enjoy my Elephant in the room on other teams but disagree with my assessment on your team. Like I did with my last column I'll once again start off the Elephant in the room in the South starting in Alphabetical order just like I did last time.
The Arizona Wildcats replaced one lame coach in Mike Stoops in another with Rich Rodriguez. Rodriguez was once a high profile coach when he was at West Virginia where he went 60-26. He left for Michigan where he failed miserably going 15-22 and worse yet was 6-18(.333) in conference games. Arizona didn't struggle last year because of offense they struggled cause they couldn't stop anyone. They went 4-8 last year and lost quarterback Nick Foles to the NFL. Sure Rodriguez will put up points on the board and that will be exciting. Just don't expect him to win many games down in Arizona. If Rodriguez can't win in Michigan which has a ton of great tradition and can recruit well what chance does he have a lower tier Pac-12 school like Arizona? I expect this experiment to crash and burn starting immediately this year.
Arizona State Sun Devils:
The Arizona State Sun Devils just like their rivals had a rather interesting coaching hire. They hired Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Todd Graham. Graham won at Rice going 7-6 then bounced after one year, then went to Tulsa for four years going 36-17 then bounced to Pittsburgh going 6-6 before leaving to Arizona State. The Sun Devils just fired Dennis Erickson for going 6-6(he would end up 6-7 after losing his lame duck bowl game) yet they hired a guy who went 6-6? Graham even if he does do well has shown he will bail on a team as he has already left two programs after just one season. No matter how much you want to pump this guy up he's a .500 coach in big boy ball and I'm being generous since the Big East is dog shit and easily the worst BCS conference. Face it Sun Devils you whiffed on this hire and once again despite all the potential in the world you'll still be average.
The Colorado Buffaloes were terrible last season in going 3-10 which actually surprised most people in fact. Well now they lost talented running back Rodney Stewart who ran for 854 yards(4.5 YPC) with four touchdowns while also being their second leading receiver with 45 receptions for 571 yards(12.7 YPC). He did lead the team in receptions as well. This is already a terrible team who on paper lost their one stud play maker on offense. There is a very good chance Colorado could actually be worse than they were last season which is a scary thought for Buffaloes fans in Colorado.
I keep seeing a ton of praise for the Utah Utes and I'm not buying it. You know why I'm not buying it? Cause Utah despite going 8-5 last year was 4-5 in conference. Utah also didn't win a single game in conference against a team with a winning record. They also skipped BOTH Stanford and Oregon which would have been for sure losses. Utah due to recruiting at a Mountain West level doesn't have the athletes to defeat decent to good Pac-12 teams. Another reason they can't because Jordan Wynn isn't that good. In his career he has completed 59.9% of his passes for 4,390 yards(7.4 YPA) which is good for 219.5 YPG with 31 touchdowns to 16 interceptions in 20 games. Those are solid numbers but not good enough in this league. Utah will once again benefit from not facing Oregon or Stanford. They do have to travel to Washington and they do host USC at home. Utah will once again go to a bowl game because they are skipping two of the four best teams in the conference. Just don't be fooled at the end of the year by their inflated record.
In three seasons as a head coach Lane Kiffin has coached in one bowl game which his team got killed. Now we are to believe this team is going to win the national championship? Kiffin who is 3-5 vs ranked opponents in his career including that shocking win over Oregon in Eugene. USC the one year under Matt Barkley when there was actual preseason expectations they stumbled going 9-4. Also speaking of the Oregon game which USC fan is screaming at me now saying that is a pressure win well yes it is but not really. USC was 17 point underdogs so nobody expected them to win so the pressure was off and then they came out to a 38-14 lead over Oregon. They when the game got tight so did USC as they almost choked the game away finally hanging on 38-35 over Oregon as Oregon missed a game tying field goal to force overtime. Oregon had just had back to back big road games in closing out Husky Stadium then defeating Stanford for the Pac-12 title. This time around when the teams square off Oregon will be ready. Kiffin hasn't had to deal with being the clear cut favorite and it will be interesting to see how he handles a national championship or bust type pressure.
Jim L. Mora so far has been fired by two NFL jobs and has a career record of 31-33 in the NFL. Now while Mora could turn out to be the next Pete Carroll he could just as easily turn out to be the next Mike Sherman(25-25 at Texas A &M), Dave Wannstedt(42-31 at Pittsburgh), and Chan Gailey(44-32 at Georgia Tech). All of those coaches had no head coach experience at college before taking over after failing in the NFL. Mora could be a success but he can just as easily be like every other UCLA head coach since Terry Donahue which is be very average. Mora isn't getting off to the best start with his comments about USC, barking at his assistants and kicking his team out of practice. It will be interesting to see what Mora does. One thing is for sure is UCLA fans should enter the Mora era with caution as he isn't proven as a head coach.
California Golden Bears:
Jeff Tedford is entering his 11th season at California and has a 79-48 record. He is only 48-38 in conference play. When he coached Aaron Rodgers in 2003 he went 8-6(5-3) and in 2004 he went 10-2(7-1) finishing the year ranked 9th in the country. In 2005 Marshawn Lynch came to the program where Tedford went 8-4(4-4) then in 2006 went 10-3(7-2) tying for the conference title. Since Rodgers and Lynch have left Tedford is 36-28(21-24). As you can see since he has lost Rodgers and Lynch he is a below .500 coach in conference play. There is nobody on this California roster at Quarterback or Running Back who appears to be a future pro bowler which means the California Golden Bears will once again be destined for another average season in Tedford's 11th season.
The Stanford Cardinal have been terrific the last two years mainly due to #1 pick overall Andrew Luck at quarterback and the Jim Harbaugh handing the program over to David Shaw. In the two big games last year Stanford lost both games where Shaw appeared over matched in the Oregon game and in the Oklahoma State game he took the ball out of Andrew Luck's hands. Stanford also has a tough stretch after they start off 2-0 they host #1 USC, travel to Washington on a thursday night game, host Arizona then have a road game at Notre Dame, followed up by a weird road game against their rival California in the middle of the year. Stanford could very easily go 1-4 during that stretch with a rookie quarterback, not to mention they also lost David DeCastro who anchored their offensive line. They also lost first-teamers Jonathan Martin to the draft and tight end Cody Fleenor. Stanford lost five of their six first-team all conference guys to the NFL draft. I know most are high on Stanford but they lost their star quarterback, head coach two years ago, star tight end plus their two best offensive lineman. I don't know if any program can reload after that much departure especially a non football powerhouse like Stanford.
Oregon fans don't like talking about it while rival fans do which is the Willie Lyles controversy appears to be coming to a conclusion soon. You can't talk about Oregon football without Lyles name being brought up which may be hurting their recruiting right now. Oregon despite being a top tier program has only eight committments is ranked 38th in the nation and only 5th in the Pac-12. If the penalties are severe should be interesting to see how Oregon handles the controversy. I witnessed it at Washington as the Huskies went to three straight Rose Bowls and were picked to go to a fourth straight. Then probation hit and Don James suddenly left while the Huskies suffered through three straight unthinkable 7-4 seasons. For Oregon to think they can A) survive sanctions, B) Chip Kelly won't flee to the NFL and C) replace Kelly and maintain this level of excellence is ridiculous.
Oregon has been building this journey for a while. In 1994 they went to the Rose Bowl then following it up with a Cotton Bowl. Then suffered through three average seasons until the Joey Harrington era started where they saw their program rise to the #2 ranking in the nation in 2001. Then from 2002-08 they were a solid program who couldn't get over the hump. Chip Kelly arrives and with USC going on two year bowl ban with Pete Carroll leaving they have dominated the conference. There is no guarantee Chris Peterson would bolt to Oregon like so many fans think it is a for sure thing. Do I think Oregon would fall to Washington status of 0-12? No I don't but I could see them returning to what they were in the Mike Bellotti years where they were a good program. They just weren't a great program under Bellotti so in my opinion the Lyles Elephant in the room is the biggest in the entire conference mainly cause it could take down the team of the conference which right now is Oregon.
Oregon State Beavers:
Mike Riley known as the coach who can do more with less has struggled in recent years. In his 11 years all at Oregon State he is 72-63 and 46-47 which is partly due to his first two years when the program was the worst in the nation. In his second go around he is 64-49 and 44-33 in coference play. Riley in 11 seasons has never had a season where he has lost fewer than four games in a season. Riley has seen the programs win totals drop four consecutive years as the Beavers have lost to the Oregon Ducks four consecutive years. Last year Riley went 3-9 and had an embarrassing loss to Sacramento State at home. In fact under Riley the Beavers have lost 12 games to teams not in a BCS conference which is pathetic for a major conference coach.
There doesn't appear to be hope on the horizon as Oregon State is ranked 75th in the nation in recruiting which puts them last in the conference, last year Oregon State ranked 44th good for 10th in the conference. Riley is driving the Beavers straight into the ditch and most fail to bring this up. I see how Oregon State is expected to make a bowl game even predicted to do better than Washington according to Phil Steele. I'm just not buying it, sure Riley pulls off one or two upsets a year but he has his fair share of bad losses. Two years ago lost at home to a 2-10 Washington State Cougars team giving Paul Wulff his first ever road win. Then last year the loss to Sacramento State at home was inexcusable as a real program would have fired him for that especially for going 3-9. As long as Riley is in Corvallis the Beavers will forever be limited.
The Huskies offense receives a ton of praise as Steve Sarkisian is labeled the offensive "guru". The offense though is actually overrated and racks up big numbers against crappy teams. Against the three top teams in the conference the Huskies have struggled offensively. Against Stanford all losses they have scored 14 points, 0 points and 21 points. Against Oregon all losses they have yet to score 20 points scoring 19 points, 16 points and 17 points. Against USC where they won twice they scored 16 points, 32 points and 17 points. In the two biggest wins of the Steve Sarkisian era the Huskies defeated #3 USC 16-13 in 2009 and defeated #18 Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl 19-7. Even the signature California win where Polk scored the game winner in 2010 the Huskies won 16-13 no exactly an offensive shootout.
As you can see the offense struggled, in three years the offense has only came to play one time against a good defense which was an 8-5 USC team on the road in 2010 scoring 32 points. In most of the Huskies big wins it was the defense who came through so this notion that the Huskies just need an average defense then they'll be a BCS team is completely false. They scored 56 points in a bowl loss against Baylor but Baylor's defense was ranked in the 100's not exactly a good defense. This team has no NFL offensive lineman either which means they can't grind out those tough drives. Remember last year against Eastern Washington, Hawaii and California how the game was put in the hands of the defense? It was because the offense couldn't put the game away with a sustained drive. A great offense like the 2000 one chewed up the clock, moved the chains and got the clutch first downs. This is a good offense but it has a long ways to go before it becomes a great offense.
Washington State Cougars:
The Cougars are excited to have Mike Leach over the dreadful Paul Wulff. I keep hearing how Air Raid is going get the Cougars back into a bowl game this year as Leach is going to vastly improve that passing offense plus Jeff Tuel is coming back as well. The thing is the Cougars offense was pretty good last year and wasn't the problem. They were top 10 in the nation in passing offense and top 30 in the nation in overall offense. Leach will improve that field but he won't improve what has plagued the Cougars for a while which is their defense. The Cougars defense in nine conference games allowed 311 points(34.6 PPG) with 27 being the fewest which was against Colorado and Arizona State which were both wins. Against teams with a winning record the Cougars went 0-6 last year allowing 227 points(37.8 PPG) showing they aren't ready to hang with the good teams.
The last time the Cougars defeated a team with a winning division-1 record was SMU back in 2009. The last time the Cougars defeated a conference opponent who ended the year with a winning record was all the way back in 2006. The Air Raid offense will put up points but it will also put more pressure on the field as passing teams tend to not use up much time of possession. The Cougars defense which has been dreadful the last couple of years doesn't appear to be any better. Leach is an offensive coach, the defensive players aren't very good. Look for the Cougars to be a better version of what Paul Wulff had them be last year which is eat up the weak teams but struggle to stop anyone in conference.
So when you making your predictions for this upcoming season keep in mind these Elephants in the room for each program. I noticed every fan base chooses to ignore their Elephant in the room and especially the media who covers their teams. I just like to look at them before I do my predictions as the season is only two weeks away. We'll see how each team handles their Elephant in the room and perhaps make me look dumb by the end of the year. Once again I'm sure most fan bases will like this piece while the homer fans who see no wrong in their team won't like it. For those rational fans out there I hope you enjoy this and hopefully you can at least respect my Elephant in the room on your program while nodding your head reading about the rival schools I had a dig on.