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)


isaac said...

Rivalry, your logic and fact-checking ability in your PAC10 preview are execrable.

Example of poor fact-checking: Oregon State's departed star's name is Yvenson, not Yancy; their 2007 kicker is in the CFL, not the NFL; Riley has two consecutive winning seasons, not three.

When teams like Oregon and Cal start the season with big wins against notable nonconference opponents, then struggle in conference, that is a sign of a strong, balanced conference.

Ohio State got into the National Championship game again through the benefit of a cruddy league schedule.

The Big10 had so many nonconference losses to poor teams and very few quality wins.

So Cal coasted to a ridiculously easy win over Illinois in the Rose. anOSU was never in the the game with LSU. Michigan loses to 1AA App St and gets destroyed at home by PAC10 4th place Oregon 7-39. Iowa loses to Big12 doormat ISU and to Western Michigan. Minnesota loses to Bowling Green and Fla Atlantic. N'Western put the 1 in 1-11 Duke.

These are all bad losses. They are countered by two quality wins, both in Bowls: PSU beat 7-6 TAMU, and Michigan beat SEC also ran Florida.

When you look at the PAC10, You've got Cal's wins over Tennessee and AFA; Oregon's blowouts of Houston, Michigan, Fresno St, and South Florida; Ore St's wins over Utah and Maryland; SC's strolls past Nebraska and Illinois; UCLA's win over BYU; ASU over Colorado.

These are ALL of the Pac's OOC losses: ASU losing to Texas (10-3), UA losing to BYU (11-2) and New Mexico (9-4); OSU losing to Cincinnati (10-3); Stanford losing to Notre Dame(3-9) and TCU (8-5); UCLA losing to Utah (9-4), Notre Dame and BYU; and bottom feeders UW losing to BCS teams Oh St and Hawaii and WSU losing to Wisconsin (9-4). The the only bad losses there are the Notre Dame losses. Stanford admittedly stinks and UCLA was using a walkon freshman because of injuries. Nothing like the rash of bad losses by Big10 teams.

Graham Filler said...

Isaac - Thanks for the fact-checking, I appreciate your attention to detail.

You make one point very clear: the 2007 Pac 10 played better in non conference games than the 2007 Big 10. Congratulations, your stats support that very point.

But my preview dealt with so much more. A conference's strength is found through so much more than non-conference competition, a fact you seem to ignore.

You so easily brush off Ohio State's loss to LSU, and I am sure you would brush off OSU's loss to Florida in the 2006 BCS title game. But doesn't the fact that a Big 10 team consistently makes it to the BCS title game count for anything? Of course it does.

You easily attribute California's amazing swoon to the Pac 10's strength and balance; I attribute it to an overhyped squad that was exposed badly.

My point of the preview was to say: Every year, California, Oregon, USC and sometimes AZ State obtain high preseason rankings and national title hype, and each year, the only team to show staying power is USC. I thought 2007 was a perfect example of the point of my preview.

You can have your supposed "strong, balanced conference," but I won't jump on the Pac 10's bandwagon until a team other than USC makes a sustained run at national relevance.

Jonathan M. Franz said...

Great post.

I'll take issue with one minor point: "anOSU (sic) was never in the the (sic) game with LSU"

A 10-0 lead, and a stalled LSU offense amounts to never in the game?

LSU tied the score with the help of a total of 28 yards in penalties -- a nervous shower of mistakes that buried the Scarlet.

Still, never in the game?

The Buckeyes outmatched the Tigers in total yards (353 to 326), but couldn't overcome a troubling 3-13 third-down conversion rating, and 3 turnovers.

You're right. We were outmatched. But, never say never.

The good news -- your conference will get the chance to prove itself with a Big 10/Pac 10 challenge looming in the fall. OSU v. USC, Penn State v. Oregon State, and Michigan State v. Cal should shed some light on the depth dilemma.

Your friends in essentialism...