26 June 2008

The Rivalry Classics - Life's a Pitch

A Short History of the Option

Formations are vital in life. Whether formatting an argument for a legal brief or doing backyard landscaping, creating some kind of cohesive foundation is key. In 2008, this analogy holds true in college football, but not in the traditional sense. Offensive formations are more important than ever, but they are being skewered like never before. "Anything goes" is the philosophy in the many spread offense formations that exist. Ingenius coaches strive to go against traditional offense philosophies. Example: Up until a couple years ago, everyone knew that running effectively out of the shotgun was a challenge, much less having a run-based offense out of the shotgun. Now? Watch West Virginia (a team that runs 75% of the time) ride their shotgun offense all the way to the top of the Big East.

But 30 years ago, one formation unequivocally dominated the landscape of college football. Known simply as "The Option," the philosophy of power running and multiple threats led programs like Nebraska and Michigan to perennial success. Discussing the specifics of the option would take an entire book, so I will settle for a short history of this groundbreaking offense, including discussion of the best players to run the offense and the evolution of the option philosophy.

The option has always intrigued me. The pitching, the misdirection, the grainy footage of Mike Rozier running over and around defenders...it all pulls me in. The quickness needed for decision making? Thrilling. A typical thought bubble for an option QB:

Take the snap. Turn to fullback; is the defensive tackle too far outside the center? No. Fake the dive, sprint outside. Is the defensive end taking the RB, going for me, or hedging his bets and waiting? He's hedging his bets; keep sprinting out wide. Is the cornerback blocked? No, he's focusing on the RB. Fake the pitch and follow my blockers. (SMACK) Damn, forgot about the outside linebacker.

Longhorn Enginuity and The Big O

Creating a solid offensive formation before the 1970's was no groundbreaking feat. The Wing T and the Single Wing (created by the iconic Pop Warner, pictured on the right) offenses dominated almost every level of football. Teams concentrated on running effectively, with the running back's either receiving the snap directly from the center or the quarterback carrying out multiple fakes to each running back. Much of the offensive action was concentrated between the tackle's; spreading out a defense was left to the vaunted sweep.

When Emory Bellard, the Offensive Coordinator at University of Texas in 1968, created a version of the wishbone/option, skepticism didn't even have a chance to rear its ugly head because success came so quickly. The Longhorns overran their competition on the way to two National Championships in the next 3 years.

Naturally, all the top programs followed suit. The Oklahoma Sooners set the all time NCAA team rushing record in 1971, using a wishbone/option offensive formation. The Michigan Wolverines followed the option to a 96-16-3 record in the 1970's. This link gives a great example of Michigan running their version of the option and the overloaded wishbone. At the 1:22 mark, watch the quarterback go down the line, waiting to make his decision to pitch or run. This link also gives a great visual of how coaches still used the quarterback to block, an idea laughed at now. At the :28 mark, watch the quarterback pitch back and then dive into the line, looking for someone to hit.

I call the original version of the Option "The Big O" because of its overloading qualities. Sometimes (if penetration was cut off by the offensive line) 4 running backs would end up sprinting to the exact some place, three as blockers and one carrying the ball. But the overloading advantages were not the only quality of this formation that made it so effective. Each running back was an option on every play, making it harder for the defense to key on one threat.

The real key was the fullback though. The fullback, typically lined 2-3 yards behind the quarterback, was an option to dive on every play; as one coach commented, "The fullback’s aim point is the crack of the play side guard’s rear end." The defense had to expend 1-2 players to stop the fullback on every play. And if you couldn't stop the option, your day was over, because the fullback was going to keep coming, getting 3-7 yards on every play.

Turner Gill

The evolution of the option continued into the 1980's with the introduction of an athletic quarterback into the option offense. This new option was best exemplified by the athleticism and ingenuity of the 1983 Nebraska Cornhhuskers. Mike Rozier, the Heisman winner, headlined this team, but what will really jump out at you is the way quarterback Turner Gill is used. At the 3:02 and 3:47 marks, watch the Huckers line up in a typical option formation, only to have Gill fake option dives and pitches to the backs and throw downfield passes, normally reserved for I-Form or Pro-Form offenses. This altered option alleviated the need for three running backs in the backfield and opened up the chance for downfield passes.

Veering On

The Veer Option was just another step in the evolution of this never simple offensive formation. The Veer is by no means easy to run, but the concept is simple. Take the running back (who in the traditional option was behind the quarterback) and place him on the wing. Pre-snap, put the RB in motion and then run the typical option.

Georgia Southern, a I-AA powerhouse, put the Veer on a national level in the 1990's, and the service academies followed suit (Navy Pounding Notre Dame with the Veer, pictured to the right). And although it has never been popular at the top BCS schools, most programs instituted some of the Veer into their option formations during the heyday of the option. The magic of the Veer is that is creates great, gashing angles; the running start that the running back gets allows him to cut violently around the edge of the defense.

The Rich Rod Specialty

One can see that the option refuses to be a static offense. Just when you think you have got the concept, a new wrinkle is thrown in. This is exactly what that coaches that run the option want. Rich Rodriguez, the Michigan head coach, created an option attack from the shotgun spread. Rodriguez's offense instituted veer components, but stuck to the main idea of the option: dive option, outside/inside QB run, pitch to RB. (Watch Pat White at the :17 mark).

Defending the Formation

How does one defend this quick-hitting offense? The same way you defend any other offense: Bigger, faster athletes. The option dive is a whole lot less intimidating when teams like Miami (FL) put 300 lb. nose tackles to clog up the middle and stop the dive. And the pitch is a lot less devastating when fast cornerbacks can keep the running backs from getting to the outside.

The option has been much less popular in college football since the early 1990's. This is true for a number of reasons.

  1. Teams began instituting huge lineman to stop the dive.
  2. The rise of the spread passing offense.
  3. Top QB recruits want to go play in the NFL and the NFL likes passing QB's. Top QB recruits would lean towards a program that passed more.
  4. Modern athletes can recover quicker from a misdirecting offense than athletes in the 1970's.
  5. The option offense is much more effective for the run.

Giving it the Ol' College Try

The programs and spirit of college football are becoming more like the NFL each year. College offenses can rival their NFL counterparts in complexity. College football recruiting is a multi-million dollar business and team facilities are 100 million dollar wonderlands. But while the professional teams sit in their spread passing offenses and I formations, many college programs choose to wind back the clock to the 1970's and allow their philosophy to be influenced by the spirits of the wishbone, the triple option, and the fullback dive. Judging by the respect given to the option by coaches like Bill Walker, Urban Meyer, and Rich Rodriguez, the option will not just exist on ESPN Classic, but continue to be a dynamic and important part of college football.

25 June 2008

The Rivalry - Debates on Draft

In the beginning The Rivalry, Esq. was about a single thing: two boorish undergraduates, sheltered and languid in their pursuit of knowledge, camped out at a college town imitation German pub: The Steinkeller.

Sometimes we would go on Thursdays, other times, Wednesdays -- sometimes once a week, other times twice or more -- and always for the same few truths: cold beer in fat mugs, and conflicting ideas about the nature of sport.

I've often cited Stanley Kubrick for the extopian idea that "If you can talk brilliantly enough about a problem, you can create the consoling illusion that it has been mastered." 

This is our attempt at mastery. Two guys. One a Wolverine. The other, a Buckeye. Taking sides on some of the more relevant issues in college football. We think football is a little bit like life. (Maybe we think too much). Still, we'd like to welcome you to take the concrete stairs down to that little basement bar. The floor is sticky. The beer is cold. And the conversation is real.

Welcome to The Rivalry.

Internet Critics in the New Blogosphere: Yay or Nay?

Is it positive for College Football (and humanity in general) that everyone is a critic in the new blog/internet obsessed universe?


Arguing with my friends about the merits of our favorite college sporting programs has been a large part of my life since age 7. In 5th grade, I remember arguing with Evan Beach, a die hard Michigan State fan, over which Michigan sports program was superior. We would play one on one basketball (I was Chris Webber, he was Shawn Respert) and claim program superiority when one of us reigned supreme. We even violated that old Bible passage ("don't let the sun go down on your anger"), arguing until one of us drifted off to sleep. This constant flow of verbal disagreement regarding college sporting programs was a right of passage for every sports obsessed youngster and we took these arguments seriously.

The landscape of arguing and stating one's opinion about college sports has changed drastically with the Internet, and of course, the blogosphere. Now, personal communication is no longer needed to expound on your opinion and everyone knows it. Post a comment, write a short attack post, start your own damn blog...the opportunities to spout your own opinion are endless and impossible to be curbed or policed. Do you hate Tim Tebow? Tell the world in mocking comments or on forums. Don't have any proof that Tebow is horrible? None needed. I will argue that this new "everyone's a critic" online culture is a negative for college football and college fans in general.

Real friends? Who needs real friends?

Every blogger has faced a number of rude, unenlightening comments. In the short time that I have been blogging, I have been called a "biased loser clown," to put 3 separate insults together as artfully as possible. Now insults are a dime a dozen, and anyone who has ever argued college football with a friend has endured much worse insults than the aforementioned attacks. But these insults are far different than disparaging your buddy over beers because he still argues that the Miami Hurricanes were the 2002 National Champions.

The short attacks, popularized in chat forums and on blogs, have replaced friendly, in-person arguments much more reminiscent of 10-15 years ago. These short attacks are impersonal and hold no accountability, people write them because they are too lazy to research or too impatient to cultivate relationships where coherent discourse would follow. Do you dislike a post or a disagree with a forum topic? Attack the manhood of the blog writer and then write YOUR TEAM'S NAME IN CAPS FOLLOWED BY AN EXCLAMATION MARK!

No Need for Lee Corso

The extremely critical Internet sniping at bloggers and fellow fans has made everyone an expert; this is a dangerous development. If everyone is an expert and already knows how results will turn out, who needs Kirk Herbstreit and his inside knowledge? Whoops, bad example. If everyone is an expert, who wants to read Phil Steele or listen to in-depth analysis?

"...disagree with a forum topic?  Attack the manhood of the blog writer and then write YOUR TEAM'S NAME IN CAPS FOLLOWED BY AN EXCLAMATION MARK!"

After one Big East blogger named Rutgers3 read my Big East football conference preview, he quickly wrote on his forum wall that I was an idiot clown and he had the real preseason rankings for the 2008 Big East. His referred to his rankings as "stone cold locks." His picks?

WVU, SF, Rutgers, Louisville, UCONN, PITT, 'Cuse

One problem: He forgot that Cincinnati played in the conference. One other problem: He doesn't care if Cincinnati plays in the Big East; this blogger got his moment in the sun to be the "know it all" expert and he seized it, albeit idiotically. The new culture of arguing college football online has demeaned the sports analysis of educated, informed writers and made fans like Rutgers3 an expert.

Desecrating the New Sacred Soil of the Internet

Just as the football stadiums of OSU and UM have switched from old fashioned grass to a hybrid sports surface, the forum where college football fans argue and prognosticate has changed from dorms and living rooms to the Internet and Blogs. Don't get me wrong, the Internet has been a tremendous boon for everything college football. The Internet has given us Kevin Hart, Youtube highlight clips of star high school players, and year-round college football analysis. The Internet is a giant forum where information and analysis subsists positively.

But this blessing has been taken advantage of and used in a negative manner. The new college football blog culture has manifested impersonal insults and a batch of uninformed, arrogant "experts." So please, give me a beer and an opinionated college football buddy over this amalgamation of "lol ur team blows" posts and experts like Rutgers3.


Allow me to open my defense of what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called the "marketplace of ideas" by pointing out two incongruent ironies:  First, I -- the poster child for big words and squeaky-clean gramatics, who always writes complete sentences, even in text messages -- am called upon to defend the LOL crowd.  The ones who won't read down this far because they're too busy ROFL.  Here's a message you'll understand:


(Shut the f*** up and read up please.  I just want to say, I hear you.)

The second irony is an open-source blogger who tells us there's something wrong with open-source ideas.  

Blogger?  Member?  There's no real difference 

Now, I believe Graham would have us distinguish between individuals who write in paragraph form on weblogs in which they share a vested interest and orphan fans who wonder from site to site spewing the gospel of their team.  By his vantage the former is permissible (if it weren't there would be no reason to do what we do here), but the later is "dangerous."

The problem is I don't think you can differentiate between the two.  Why?  Because they're both independent pundits who 1. Sign up to take advantage of free web-publishing services (whether hanging up their shingle on Blogger or signing up on a forum by e-mail address), 2. with the express purpose of communicating with others -- friend and foe alike, 3. united by a common enthusiasm for the game.

"Whether Whitman or WTF, expression is expression."

It seems then that the only real difference is that (at first appearance) one puts a little more time into his or her work than the other.  Bloggers like us spend hours fine tuning our content.  It takes a rogue member only a few seconds to tear it down, or so the argument goes.

This is unavailing for two reasons: First, members aren't trespassers (to wonder into the law of Torts for a few seconds they're invited guests -- we say invitees).  If you don't want to take the heat from sniper fire commentators, lock down their ability to post on your site.  Most webmasters don't do this because they enjoy the sparring.  Heck, it's flattering.  And we want readers.  

Second, freelance member pundits are fans just like bloggers.  They've simply elected to spend their free time feeding off a constellation of sites rather than marrying themselves to just one.  Members spend every bit the amount of time fact checking and fine tuning their commentary as the Almighty webmasters.

No harm, no foul

Graham would have us believe that, "The landscape of arguing and stating one's opinion about college sports has changed drastically...Personal communication is no longer needed to expound on your opinion and everyone knows it" 

To quote Stephen Jenkins (of Third Eye Blind acclaim): You said that I changed/well maybe I did/But even if I changed/What's wrong with it?

The Internet has ushered in a new ocean of potential in communication.  While we continue to struggle with the sociology of web identity, and the limits on the freedom of anonymous speech, there's still no denying its tendency to empower the masses.  The pen is the poison arrow, and with the ease of the typestroke we all have the ability to author our own gestalt.    

The New Deal of Communication is overwhelmingly positive for the following reasons: 

1. Speech is speech, whether shouted from the bleachers or typed on the basement PC in the company of cinder blocks.  

2.  There's no such thing as a decline in accountability.  Has "accountability" ever mattered when you the visiting fan walk by the home team's tailgate?  

3. Despite what Hillary Clinton says, "critical sniping" isn't even close to dangerous.  Can anyone here honestly claim to be offended by anything ever said in response to a comment they've made on a weblog?  

4. There always has been and there always will be a place for mainstream media.  Bonfires need tinder, after all.  

5. Finally, open-source commenting expands a community of ideas (however limited the dialect).  Whether Whitman or WTF, expression is expression, and the wider the horizon the more room for exploration.

Graham appeals to the good ol' days of bar booths and cross-table banter.  But if you're an Irish fan living in South Bend, it's often hard to grind ax P2P with a Trojan.  The Internet allows you to do just that, in real time.  If you don't like the depersonalization of the medium -- don't surf.  Ditch the hyperlinks for your favorite neon sign.  But if you're like me you'll borrow from the old adage and keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

After all, the bars close at 2, but the net is open all night.

Call it the best of both worlds.

22 June 2008

The Rivalry Classics - Coach, but no Cigar

Left: President John F. Kennedy enjoys a petite Corona from his fifth-row seat at the 1963 Orange Bowl.

Everyone needs a good vice.  For my part, there are few things in life more endearing than watching a Thursday night football game out on the front patio of my Victorian home with a cold micro-brew, a thick cigar, and the faint tingle of ragweed and honeysuckle in the air.  There's something about the milky draw of a tightly-packed blend and a straight burn that begs contemplation.

The cigar is a fixture of a lost era -- the days of sideline bowler hats, neckties, tweed blazers and real grass playing surfaces.  The legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant used to pass out victory lonsdales to his Alabama teams after wins over rival Tennessee.  There was even a Cigar Bowl in Tampa, Florida that featured smaller namesakes from 1946-1954 (although it can boast hosting the Florida State Seminoles in their first postseason appearance -- a 19-6 win over Wofford).  And who can forget Lloyd Carr's simple, but triumphant walk into retirement after an unlikely 2007 Capital One Bowl upset of Florida  The consummate professional unbuttoned his collar and headed for the team bus with a bottled water and a lit Churchill in hand.  (If you'd like to share a short story with Carr, he's rumored to keep a private locker at Smoky's in Ann Arbor).

To invoke material Freud, sometimes a cigar is just that.  But when it comes to coaching, perhaps these simple products of hand and sunlight can tell us something about the flavor and personality of the game.  John Galsworthy's famous observation, "By the cigars they smoke, and the composers they love, ye shall know the texture of men's souls," is not lost on this fan.

What follows is a tongue-in-cheek review of four modern coaches at top ebb and their predicted smoke of choice.

Above: Rich Rod drags on a torpedo during the "Champions for Children's Hearts" celebrity golf tournament May 18th in Ann Arbor.

Indianhead Dynamite 652 Maduro (6'' x 56)
With its dark-oily wrapper, thick ring-gauge, and orange power band, Indianhead's Dynamite has a slightly foreboding, explosive appearance just like RR's spread em' out and run em' over offense.

The hand-rolled exterior is veined and dimpled, and the cigar lights quickly and burns balanced.  It's a big hotheaded smoke, thick with Appalachian mountain coal, and toasted almond.  This isn't the kind of stick you light to celebrate a new birth -- but might be just right to toast the settlement of a contract dispute with your former employer.  

Gurkha "His Majesty's Reserve" (HMR) (7.5'' x 52)

This royal entry holds the distinction of being the most expensive cigar in the world.  At $750.00 a piece (a box of 20 is available for $14,999.95 at Cigar.com) the HMR is accessible to only a handful of elites.  Fortunately, Nick Saban's paycheck at Alabama just qualifies him.  

An aged Dominican-leaf is loaded with a proprietary filler blend flown in from four corners of the world.  An entire bottle of Louis XIII Cognac is involved in an infusion process that rivals great triumphs in modern engineering.  

Fewer than 100-boxes of HMR are released each year with Gurkha Cigars President Kaizad Hansotia exclusively responsible for their distribution.  Fortunately for Nick, Hansotia is a Crimson Tide fan.  There are some things money can't buy, and other things that just aren't worth the price.  We know Saban isn't the former -- the later remains to be determined.

Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Natural (4 1/2'' x 46)

This perennial 10-best legend is named for the year Cuban refugee Jose Padron opened up his cigar factory in Miami.  By then Bobby Bowden had already been coaching for almost a decade.

Both men have been labeled the best in their business, and this box-pressed cigar is worthy of the distinction.  Filler tobacco, aged for four years, is uncannily balanced with warm pleasing hints of vanilla, wet leather, fresh-ground black pepper,
and coffee.  

Each band is individually numbered and perforated in a familiar motif: garnet and gold.

Right: Bowden's office overlooking his namesake field at Doak Campbell Stadium.  Check out the humidor on the right side of the desk...

Sabor Cubano Grand Torpedo (7'' x 54)

Those who think of Senator straightforward as having a political demeanor more akin to Ronald Reagan than the slippery-rock antics of Bill Clinton might be surprised to discover he shares one key habit of leisure with Mr. "It Depends." 

As the Columbus Dispatch reported in January: "Tressel's vices appear to be few.  He might sip a glass of red wine from time to time, but he's not a big drinker...He smokes the occasional cigar but is just as likely to chew on the unlit stogie as he listens to contemporary country music and mows the yard...a favorite pastime."

Tressel...really?  It's true.  I know first hand.  The mom-and-pop cigar shop where Tress' buys his stogies happens to be my favorite study nook: Barclay Pipe & Tobacco in Upper Arlington.  This hidden gem, leftover from the old Lane Avenue Mall 10 minutes from campus is a timeless retreat.  Neatly framed and inconspicuously hung next to the door (so that you might miss it if you weren't looking) is an autographed extra glossy photo of Jim: "To my friends at the Barclay..." it reads plainly.

The Sabor Cubano is a natural maduro -- no fancy leaf treatments here -- that burns slow and sweet, with easy subdued notes of nutmeg and freshly cut grass, and transitions into a long, white ash.  Simple and elegant like the man himself.

Editor's Note: This story has since been rebanded and featured on Rivals.com's Fanblogs site under the title "Choose Your Weapon: Cigars of the Coaching Elite."  Webmaster Kevin Donahue added a few more coaches to the list.  You can get the full coverage at www.fanblogs.com

19 June 2008

2008 Preview Series - Pac 10

The Pac 10 Sings a Melancholy Tune.

The Rivalry’s music tastes vary widely; lately we've been jamming to The Arcade Fire, Talib Kweli, and Led Zeppelin. But while doing the Pac 10 Season Preview, we wrote and researched to the iconic sound of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately” and Shania Twain’s machismo-stomping “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” These two hits seemed appropriate listening material when discussing the always hyped, mostly disappointing Pac 10 football conference.

From the Nike-infused intensity in Autzen to the star-studded Trojans in Los Angeles, the Pac 10 is considered among the elite 3 football conferences in America. But The Rivalry, Esq. believes the Pac 10’s football results of 2007 are a microcosm of the overall weakness of this storied conference. USC, Oregon, California, and Arizona State were all ranked in the top 5 during the season, yet each team faced late season swoons that left USC looking like the only legitimate power.

The 2007 Pac 10 conference was a media darling before the season; the 2008 Pac 10 will fly under the radar. Oregon, Oregon State and California are all rebuilding offensively while USC and Arizona State are the only two teams ranked in most pre season Top 25’s. Many of the playmakers that made the Pac 10 so interesting have graduated or been drafted into the NFL. So while we hope the Pac 10 teams crescendo like Jimmy Page's guitar riff in "Kashmir" from their lowly ratings most experts and bloggers are predicting mediocre results.


Esquire Rating: 5/5

Orenthal James’ alma mater gears up for a title run.

Matt Leinart. Reggie Bush. Pete Carroll. USC is not a bad place to play football right now. But let us not forget that just 9 years ago, USC was a 5-7 last place team lacking an identity. USC, the school of Tailback U, the Perfect Day, and Marcus Allen, has taken monster steps in the last 6 years to becoming a perennial Top 5 team.

The Trojans recruit the best athletes and place them in a proven offensive and defensive scheme. The Trojans offense is traditional in comparison to teams like Florida, Ohio State, and West Virginia. Carroll runs a pro style I form that treasures one on one match-ups the minions usually win. The defense is built on man-child athletes like Sedrick Ellis, Lofa Tatupu, and Troy Polamalu. Carroll’s ra-ra spirit has made USC the cool kid in town; the sidelines are full of celebrities and former stars.

But no matter how highly rated the USC Trojans were or how badly they trounced Illinois in the Rose Bowl, USC fans were not satisfied with an 11-2 season and an end of season #3 ranking. Its title game or bust for these Trojans, as well it should be.

2008 will bring high expectations, as the Trojans talent level far outstrips Oregon or Arizona State. Even without John David Booty returning, Mark Sanchez and Mitch Mustain are both blue chippers well equipped for the starting job. USC will be stacked on defense, but Ellis will be missed. If you remember the way USC overran opposing offensive lines last year, you will understand the vital role Ellis played.

Must Win: OHIO STATE (9/13). One half of The Rivalry, Esq. believes that USC’s quarterback (whichever one starts) will be too inexperienced and the Buckeye’s have the advantage. The other half believes that USC’s athletes can overcome any QB weakness and overwhelm the immobile Todd Boeckman. Either way, this “Game of the Century” is slated to be the top college football match up of 2008.

Rivalry Comment: Fun Stat: Since Pete Carroll came to USC, the Trojans are 11-3 against Top 10 opponents.

Predicted Record: 11-1 (7-1 conference)


Esquire Rating: 3/5

10 win seasons don't make you a great team, especially in the Pac 10.

Many critics believed Dennis Erickson’s 10-3 campaign in 2007 was the beginning of the Sun Devil’s rise to national prominence. The Rivalry, Esq. wonders aloud whether the successful season of 2007 was more of a referendum on the mediocrity of the Pac 10, instead of proof that the Sun Devils have a burgeoning program. Proof lies in Arizona State’s results in its three big games vs. USC, Oregon, and Texas: loss, loss, and loss.

The 2008 Sun Devils return a great QB in Rudy Carpenter and a solid running back corps. Erickson has a national championship and adds an air of relevance to the Pac 10; he has shown offensive ingenuity wherever he has coached. Everyone expects the Sun Devils to win 8-9 games, but the big test will be how the Sun Devils play in their monster games versus Oregon, USC, and Georgia.

Must Win: OREGON (10/25). The Sun Devils were 8-0 to start 2007 and were ranked in the top 5; the thought that Arizona State was a Top 5 team was quickly dispelled. This matchup will be comprised of two very similar teams, both fighting to be the 2nd best program in the Pac 10.

Rivalry Comment: Somewhere in my muddled research, I found that Arizona State played my alma mater Miami (OH) in the 1950 Salad Bowl. I’m sure the players had a good time tossing the football around...right.

Predicted Record: 9-3 (7-2 conference)


Esquire Rating: 3/5

Good times, bad times.

The above mentioned Led Zeppelin song does a pretty good job of summing up last season for the Oregon Ducks. My Michigan brethren and I will not easily forget Dennis Dixon dissecting our defense with his strong arm and quick feet. The rest of the nation will not easily forget how Dixon’s injury versus Arizona ended the Ducks national championship hopes.

With All-American’s Dixon and RB Jonathan Stewart gone, the Ducks won't shoot out of the gates offensively like in 2007. However, the defense will be solid and Oregon has no trouble attracting athletes who will make an impact on the offensive side (i.e. LaGarrette Blount, JUCO extraordinaire).

Must Win: @USC (10/4). The Duck’s need to attack whoever is at quarterback for USC. Getting pressure on Mustain or Sanchez will be paramount if Oregon is to pull off the upset.

Rivalry Comment: Oregon is an intriguing football program in The Rivalry’s eyes. Autzen Stadium has proven to be an incredible home advantage to the Ducks and Phil Knight’s donations from his Nike fortune have given Oregon some of the best athletic facilities in the nation. With those advantages, Oregon’s success of 2007 isn't entirely surprising.

Predicted Record: 9-3 (6-3 conference)


Esquire Rating: 3/5

Jeff Tedford faces his biggest challenge yet.

Whenever I think of 2007 California, I think of Desean Jackson making Deon Sanders-esq plays, a blowout of a solid Tennessee team, and one of the biggest crumbles in recent history. California was a whisper away from being ranked in #1, only to lose 6 out of its last 8 games. Tedford’s QB magic wore off as QB Nate Longshore struggled mightily.

For 2008 Cali has solid linebackers and a strong defense; many experts believe that Tedford will have to depend on his defense until he can create a cohesive offensive lineup. California’s August game v Michigan State will give everyone a great look at whether the Bears have forgotten their 2-6 finish of 2007.

On the offensive side of the ball, Blue Chip QB Kevin Riley looked excellent in the Armed Forces game. He has an excellent arm and doesn’t lack mobility. Ooo, a QB Controversy for the QB magician? The Rivalry is intrigued.

Must Win: UCLA (10/25). California must beat the Bruins to prove they are not just another middle of the road Pac 10 team; around this time last year, the Bears were falling apart.

Rivalry Comment: All American Center Alex Mack is 320 pounds and can do the splits. The Rivalry vaguely remembers a Nickelodeon show called “Alex Mack” about a teenage girl.   We think this coincidence is interesting, but absolutely meaningless.

On another note, The Rivalry certainly roots for California. It must be those classic jerseys, the cursive writing on the helmet, and “The Play.”

Predicted Record: 7-5 (5-4 conference)

UCLA Bruins

Esquire Rating: 2.5/5

Will the Mormon make it his mission to lead UCLA to a turnaround?

Ben Olsen, Rick Neuheisel, and Norm Chow aim to turn around this mediocre Bruin program. They each have distinct roles. Olsen needs to prove he is an All-American QB and needs to avoid injuries. Neuheisel needs to convince recruits that UCLA can be as successful as cross-town rival USC. Chow needs to add some pizzazz to an offense that has struggled since Cade McNown left in 1998.

The Bruin defense is loaded like a good baked potato. The 2007 defense was hard hitting and intense; Reggie Carter, Brigham Harwell, and Akeen Ayers are all NFL talent.

Must Win: ARIZONA (9/20). UCLA needs to let their urgency to win show in a game like this.  The defense should be good enough to stifle Willie’s spread offense.

Rivalry Comment: Once every 10 to 20 years, the Bruins have an All World QB. The study Gary Beban won the Heisman in ’67, Troy Aikman won the Davey O’Brien in ‘88, and McNown almost won the Heisman in ’98. Can Olsen be the next great one?

Predicted Record: 7-5 (5-4 conference)


Esquire Rating: 2/5

Will Jake Locker be recruited by “Days of Our Lives”?

Washington is the last Pac 10 team not named USC to win a national title; the 1991 Huskies completed an undefeated season, easily smacking Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The 1991 Huskies played it close all year and featured future NFL bust DT Steve Entman, who dominated the college game. But the Huskies haven’t been a legitimate power since 2001 and the fans need a winning season from Willingham.

We were going to harp on the horrid nature of U-Dub’s 2007 results, but were persuaded to take a closer look. The Huskies almost beat USC and played Ohio State and Hawaii down to the wire, with an ultra talented, frosh QB. But while these glimpses may garner some optimism, Ty Willingham’s defense dispelled any thoughts that U-Dub was ready to be a .500 team. Here are the point totals given up by the Husky defense, game by game:

12, 10, 33, 44, 27, 44, 55, 48, 9, 29, 23, 42, 35 (for an average of 30 points per game allowed)

Washington’s 2008 schedule isn't any easier and the defense lost 5 impact line players to graduation. Having the dreamy Jake Locker as a soph QB will make the offensive instantly legitimate, but Locker will have to generate a lot of points to make up for a defense that has little experience and no veteran leadership.

Must Win: NOTRE DAME (10/25). Will the Golden Domers be embroiled in another losing campaign or will they furnish a tough test for Washington?

Rivalry Comment: The Rivalry, Esq. has very real memories of feeling depressed at the age of 8 while watching Washington dismantle Michigan in the ’91 Rose Bowl.

We also think Jake Locker has a name and face straight out off a soap opera.  Imagine this dialogue:

Maria: Jake Locker, where have you been? I was worried sick.

Jack Locker: Maria, how dare you show up in the locker room in just a raincoat and heels?

Maria: If you won’t love me Locker, you will never inherit your father’s fortune.

Jake Locker: I only want to play ball Maria, I don’t need for your foolish charms.

(Background Music Swells)

Predicted Record: 5-7 (4-5 conference)


Esquire Rating: 2/5

The Wildcats need to channel Teddy Bruschi’s intensity, circa 1995.

Arizona is a wonderful school with a sports program that any school would envy, however, football is not its strong suit. Even in a weak 2007 Pac 10, the Wildcats couldn't put together a cohesive team effort, and again missed out on the post season. The Wildcats best game was a win over the #2 Oregon Ducks; Willie Tuitama showed why he was the Pac 10’s 2nd most efficient passer.

This hardwood obsessed school has often struggled to pull the concentration of its fans from basketball, beautiful co-eds, and great weather. A winning season and a star could bring those fans running. Tuitama will do his best with a veteran spread offense, but the defense is inexperienced and lost Antoine Cason, a first round NFL pick. It seems that no matter what the Wildcats have tried in the last 10 years, they have been unable to be better than mediocre. 2008 won’t be any different.

Must Win: UCLA (9/20). A low level program like Arizona has to take baby steps. Beating a mid level program like UCLA isn't a bad start.

Rivalry Comment: Somewhere in my convoluted Arizona research, I found that Arizona used to play in something called the “Border Bowl.” Classic, straight to the point, and a nice Western feel; The Rivalry petitions we bring back this wonderfully named affair.

Predicted Record: 5-7 (3-6 conference)


Esquire Rating: 2/5

Gutted like a Pacific Salmon.

The 2007 Beavers defeated Oregon, Utah, and a then #2 California, while RB Yancy Bernard did his best not to get overshadowed by fellow Oregonian Jonathan Stewart. Mike Riley rode his veteran team to a 9-4 record; The Rivalry is impressed that Riley showed patience and the ability to build a program. Riley has 3 consecutive winning seasons, a fact that should not go unnoticed.

2008 is a rebuilding year in the biggest sense of the word.  The whole offense is gone with the slight exception of the shaky quarterbacks -- the linebacking corps is gone -- and the star kicker is in the NFL. Riley will struggle to hit .500 thanks to the graduated starters and a killer schedule, including Penn State and Hawaii.

Must Win: UCLA (8/28). Win early and build confidence for the Baby Beavers.

Rivalry Comment: Someone tell Chad Johnson, a proud Beaver alum (? – I don’t know if he graduated), to calm down in Cincinnati. There are worse things than making eight million dollars a year and having a whole city love you.

Predicted Record: 5-7 (3-6 conference)


Esquire Rating: 2/5

Has Jimmy started a renaissance in Palo Alto

Everyone remembers the unbelievable upset of USC in Los Angeles in 2007, but no one remembers that Stanford’s offense was horrendous the entire year. In one 4 game stretch, the Cardinals scored 46 points, completely lacking the ability to explode.

The 2008 Cardinal will be short on talent as usual, but Stanford fans have a reason for celebration: the nation will be watching and paying attention, in hopes of another upset.  Media attention in Palo Alto for football? That might be the biggest miracle of all.

Must Win: ARIZONA (10/11).

Rivalry Comment: Even though the bar has been lowered tremendously for getting into Bowls, Harbaugh should be commended if somehow he leads the Cardinal to a 6 win season.

Predicted Record: 5-7 (3-6 conference)


Esquire Rating: 2/5

New Spread Offense might alleviate the boredom I feel in writing the Cougar’s season preview.

3 Rose Bowl appearances in 100 years or so of football isn’t exactly something to put on your resume, plus the Cougars haven’t been exciting since Ryan Leaf was slinging bullets in 1997. New coach Paul Wulff brings his I-AA spread offense to Martin Stadium to try and revitalize the Cougars. C Kenny Alfred, a Rimington Trophy candidate, will anchor the O-Line, while senior WR Brandon Gibson should continue to put up big numbers.

No matter which players and coaches I talk about, the mentality has to change at Washington State. The Cougars need a winning season soon, or Gordon Gee might come out of nowhere and try to eliminate the football program.

Must Win: OKLAHOMA STATE (08/30). The Cougar faithful would love an early season upset.

Rivalry Comment: My roommates’ grandfather is a stud Cougar player from about 50 years ago, Johnny Bley. Hats off to that family starting the flag waving tradition at every ESPN Gameday.

Predicted Record: 4-9 (2-7 conference)