Tag Archives: Pac-12 North

Can the Oregon Ducks Come Out of their Downward Spiral?

Success can be a difficult thing to attain. It can also be a difficult thing to hang onto. If you doubt that, just ask any Oregon Ducks fan right now. There are more Duck fans flying off the bandwagon than there are actual ducks heading south right now. What has happened to the Oregon Ducks?

Depends on who you ask.

I believe it has come down to recruiting and the inability to develop a quarterback, but not Mark Helfrich.

Let’s start with recruiting.

The Ducks don’t recruit the type of player they have in the past. The lack of playmakers on the team is apparent to anybody that watches Oregon games. Players like Marcus Mariota, Ed Dickson, Jonathan Stewart, and Patrick Chung aren’t walking through the doors of the football facilities at Oregon anytime soon.

From 2010-12 the Ducks put together recruiting classes that ranked in the top-15 nationally. Let’s also remember that this was during the Chip Kelly years. The recruiting classes that Kelly put together had an average of 10 players that had a four-star rating attached to their name. Getting that many quality players for three years was bound to make a difference for the Ducks. Here’s the issue though:

Since 2013, the average rank of Oregon’s recruiting classes has been 21st. The amount of four-star players has dipped to seven on average, and the Ducks have only had two five-star players since 2013.

Let’s face the reality that coaches face. Talented players make their coaches look brilliant, but when the talent is running thin, that same coach doesn’t look so amazing anymore.

For the Ducks to get back to what the Ducks were a few seasons ago, they have to hit the recruiting trail harder. Oregon has to sell the University of Oregon much better. The mistake I think the Ducks make is that the their coaches believe that players are just lining up to come to Eugene. They are not lining up anymore. Not that they really were.

Oregon is not Ohio State or Alabama.

Secondly, since Marcus Mariota took his Heisman Trophy playmaking skills to the NFL, the Ducks haven’t had any consistency at the quarterback position. It’s hard to replace a legend at a school, but you need to at least have a plan in place to find someone to fill that role.

The logical choice may have been Jeff Lockie, but he came in and looked like he had never played football before. He was dreadful. Vernon Adams Jr, a graduate transfer, came from Eastern Washington University and played pretty well, but injuries hurt Adam’s overall effectiveness with the Ducks.

You would think the Oregon coaching staff would have a redshirt-freshman who might be able to take over the offense for the next few seasons.

Nope.

Oregon went fishing in the graduate transfer waters again, bringing Dakota Prukop up from the depths of Montana State. What has he provided?

Well, Prukop hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t horrible either. In effect, he has been a game manager. Prukop isn’t throwing for an insane amount of yards per game, but he’s not Jeff Lockie either.

With Oregon’s recent struggles, some have questioned whether or not Prukop can stay in his starting role. Some media types and fans want the Ducks to see what freshman Justin Herbert can do.

The most popular player on the team is always the back-up quarterback. However, Herbert has not taken any meaningful snaps and people want this young kid thrown out onto the field against the Husky defense this weekend? If you do that you risk his confidence being shattered into a thousand pieces. The Washington defense is nothing to take lightly. Put Dakota Prukop out there. It’s the smart move to make, Oregon.

Lastly, the coaching always comes under fire when things don’t go well. Especially considering the fragile mental state of most Oregon fans. The program has not been relevant for long, but the program acts like they have been around forever. This little downturn with their win/loss record is a reminder that you have to work hard to keep the talent coming.

Should Mark Helfrich be fired?

No.

Who do the Ducks think will come to Eugene? Not Les Miles or Tom Herman. Mark Helfrich is not Urban Meyer or Nick Saban, but those type of elite coaches are the exception, not the rule. I don’t see a better candidate available for this program.

The Oregon program has always wanted their football coach to represent the school in a classy way, positively represent the state of Oregon, and to conduct his life with integrity. To anybody outside the state of Oregon that may be hard to understand, but that is how it’s always been. Mark Helfrich does those things.

This is Helfrich’s first season of losing and now people want him gone. You want to fire a coach with a 35-11 record? That translates to a 76% win percentage. Yeah, that makes lousy sense. The tendency to have these knee jerk reactions is a symptom of social media. A quick fix is not going to change anything for Oregon. Helfrich knows the game and he relates to his players well. Helfrich is the guy for this football program.

You know what changes things for football teams? Talent. Recruit playmakers, Oregon. You got great talent to come to the little town of Eugene before. You can do it again.

Image: Courtesy of Mike Wilson

Email Mike at mike (dot) wilson (at) campuspressbox (dot) com or follow Mike on Twitter @pigskinopinion

Questions Remain Despite Arizona State Beating California

To predict how an Arizona State football season will end up you might want to call a psychic into your house. The moment you think the team is good, they disappoint. When they actually fly under the radar they end up being a quality team. What do we have in Tempe?

What the Sun Devils are is still a mystery to me. Entering their game with the California Golden Bears, the Sun Devils were 3-0 and looking for more. That’s right, the Sun Devils had not been beaten yet.

Getting to 3-0 had not come easy for the Sun Devils, but by no means does this mean that the Devils are a lock for a post-season bowl game. This Sun Devil team is a “bend, but don’t break” type of team. With a legit quarterback in Davis Webb for California, the defense had its challenge right in front of it.

Defense wins games right? Right now, I would settle for a Sun Devil defense making a stop or two.

The Sun Devil defense had to make stops against California. Sonny Dykes has that Chip Kelly quality with running plays at the speed of light, but does not have Kelly’s flare. With that in mind, it was imperative that the Devils defense kept up with the California offense.

On California’s second possession of the night, it exposed the middle of the Sun Devil defense, which has been a problem. Davis Webb torched the defense and got the Bears up 7-0.

This game had the feel of the Sun Devil and Texas Tech game, but sometimes the feel of the game doesn’t happen for a while.

It wasn’t exactly like the Texas Tech game, but both teams tried to put the hurt on each other. California’s Davis Webb is a bona fide pro prospect with how he can throw the ball. I was immensely impressed with how he tossed it around the field. He had 234 yards of passing in the first half and his team was up 24-10.

Arizona State didn’t look interested in the first half and it showed. California seemed like it had control of the game, but looks can be deceiving.

It’s always amazing how the flow of a game can change with a couple of stops on defense, yet the game still up in the air. Stopping the air attack from the Golden Bears was the key to any success the Sun Devils would have on Saturday night.

By the end of the third quarter, the Sun Devils had fought their way back to within one possession.

Arizona State showed its critics that it had some fight, however it still had a hill to climb.

The fourth quarter is where the rubber hits the road in a close game. Unfortunately for the California Golden Bears, they were the ones who got run over.

With defensive stops, interceptions, and Manny Wilkins making some key passes, the Sun Devils turned a sluggish start into a Sun Devil monsoon at the end.

The Sun Devil defense does have holes in it, but it made the plays down the stretch. Don’t get me wrong, they still gave up 41 points, which something that has to be solved. However, they were a big part of this 51-41 win over California.

Say what you want about Arizona State. It is 4-0 heading into its games with the USC Trojans and then the UCLA Bruins. This game was a confidence boost for the Sun Devils. They have to figure out how to be more consistent on defense and not as sluggish to start games. They fix those two things and who knows what happens.

Well, the psychic might. Forks Up, Sun Devil fans.

Email Mike at mike.wilson@campuspressbox.com or follow Mike on Twitter @pigskinopinion

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The Stanford Cardinal is the Big Dog in the Pac-12

We are beginning conference play in college football now. In the Pac-12, the Stanford Cardinal is showing why it’s their conference to lose.

They are still my top team in the Pac-12, by far. They have already used their bye week in week two. That extra time allowed them to get ready for USC. The extra time gained was put to good use. Stanford made the Trojans look like a team that didn’t know what they were doing on the field.

Christian McCaffrey is up to his usual game day highlights. I don’t think there is a defense in the Pac-12, or the country, that can shut this guy down. McCaffrey had 265 all-purpose yards against the Trojans, but it could have been much more. Having stats like those is becoming the norm for him. Coming into the Pac-12 season, head coach David Shaw was adamant about using his star player in different ways, but didn’t want to overuse him.

“We plan to get Christian the ball whenever and however we can. We have many sets that we plan to use to utilize his talents,” Coach Shaw said at the Pac-12 Media Days.

Shaw is becoming a master at getting his star player the ball. He’s used him in the backfield, slot, out on the perimeter, punt return, and kick-off return. If he could play defense, Coach Shaw would use McCaffrey there as well.

Players of Christian McCaffrey’s caliber don’t come along very often, but when they do they are fun to watch.  Going into his sophomore season I talked about him as a potential play-maker for the Cardinal. However, nobody foresaw the type of play-maker he has become. He has exceeded all expectations set forth by his coaches and it has allowed Stanford to reach heights only dreamed of before.

However, football is not a one-man show. Behind every great team is a great coach.

The other part of the equation for Stanford has been head coach David Shaw. Coach Shaw has a vision for his program and he doesn’t waver from it. He goes after players that fit that vision, but doesn’t stray from the vision he has.

“If a player doesn’t fit the culture we have at Stanford. He’s not for us,” Shaw said recently.

In my opinion, David Shaw is the best coach in the Pac-12 and possibly the entire country. Sorry, Alabama fans.

Shaw has shown that he is flexible in his offensive and defensive schemes. He’s not afraid to be different from the rest of the Pac-12 Conference. While Stanford is known for its physical play and pound the ball type of offense, it has shown that running some tempo offense is not out of its repertoire.

“Most people don’t know about the speed we have on this team. It’s an overlooked facet of our team. We have people that can flat out fly down the field. We would be crazy not to take advantage of the speed we have,” Shaw said.

Coach Shaw has a monster growing in Palo Alto, so he will continue to feed the beast at Stanford to make them the class of the West Coast.

Rumors swirl every year that he might leave for the NFL. He isn’t going anywhere, so keep wishing NFL fans. Stanford is full of intelligent people and to let David Shaw escape campus would be the worst move the school could make.

With the coaching ability of David Shaw and the playmaking ability of Christian McCaffrey it is little wonder why the Stanford Cardinal is the big dog of the Pac-12 Conference.

 

E-mail Mike at mike.wilson@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

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Pac-12 Teams Have Something to Prove in Week Two

The Pac-12 Conference is not expected to make the playoff for the second straight year and after the performance of some of its teams last weekend that could be an easy assertion to make. Which teams need to prove something going into week two?

Arizona State

In reality, the Sun Devils were not going to contend for a division crown this year. What Arizona State had to show to its fans was that they were ready to play right out of the gate, especially with lower division teams. First up was Northern Arizona University.

The ability to put a lower-tier team down quickly is still not there. Well into the third quarter this game was a one possession game. Really ASU? This contest should have been over by halftime at the latest, but the Sun Devils let the Lumberjacks hang around too long. The Devils need to get out of the shoots quickly and not take their time getting warmed up to their opponent.

I know people will say that, with all the new coaches and players, it takes time. That is hogwash.  That’s what the spring and summer camps are for. Get it together Sun Devils.

If the Sun Devils play this slow against Texas Tech, they will lose easily.

California

California had to start their season in Australia against Hawaii. That is asking a lot of any team, but getting the amount of rest that they have got after that game is the bonus side of that equation.

California needs to prove that their offense with new quarterback Davis Webb should be taken seriously because it appeared to struggle at times with Hawaii. Davis did find some rhythm during the Hawaii game, but he needs to show a greater ability to read defenses.

Against San Diego State this weekend, the Bears will have to show a great command on the offensive side of the ball. Webb has to clean up his play on deep balls and show the fans that they can trust him to win ballgames.

The bigger question will be if the defense line can muster any kind of rush at the quarterback. If they can’t get at the opposing quarterback, it’s going to expose the secondary again.

With all the high-powered offenses in the Pac-12, the Golden Bears are going to have to stop somebody, otherwise they will be battling for last place.

USC

What the hell do we do with the USC Trojans? All this hype, all those five star athletes, and all these people thinking that the Trojans are finally back. How did all that work out in the first week?

You saw what happened.

USC needs a dose of reality brought to the program, quickly. They are not as good as everybody makes them out to be. Every single time we think this is the year the Trojans make some noise, they fall flat on their backsides.

The Trojans have the most to prove this week because they have the crazy expectations from everybody.

Is Clay Helton the guy?

He’s 0-3 as the official head coach of the Trojans, not exactly a record that endears himself to the USC fans.

With the Utah State Aggies coming into the L.A. Coliseum the Trojans better have their hard hats on because the Aggies are not a team you want to take lightly. They are 1-0 and looking for more. Utah State has nothing to lose and the Trojans have everything to lose.

Tempers flared up during this week at practice and that causes me to raise more red flags with this program. When you have players fighting each other it usually doesn’t bode well for the following game, or even for the rest of the season.

Washington State

The Cougars came out and laid another opening game egg. For all the talk that Washington State has got over the summer, they’re still showing us they may not be ready for primetime.

Last year, the Cougars did the same thing by losing to Portland State at home, but managed to turn their season around. There is a difference between last year and this year, to me.

Washington State is not sneaking up on anybody this year like they may have done in 2015. There is a bit of a target on their back and they have raised expectations due to their success last year.

Head coach Mike Leach was frustrated with the defense.

“We couldn’t play any dang’gum defense last week,” Leach said in the weekly conference call with the media.

The other issue I saw was with leadership from the quarterback, Luke Falk.

Luke Falk has to show that he can take that next step in getting his team to win games that they should. Falk puts up video game numbers, but to be a great quarterback, leading your team to wins is what it is all about. He needs to show he can put a team on his back and win the game. He didn’t do that in week one.

Week two is against the Boise State Broncos on the road. Boise State is a quality team and playing on the smurf turf has brought many teams to their knees. The Cougars certainly have their work cut out for them this weekend.

If the Cougars can’t get this win the whole season could be a disaster for them. Mike Leach bought some time with the winning season last year, but reverting back to a mediocre team will make his seat hot.

E-mail Mike at mike {dot} wilson {at} campuspressbox {dot} com or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion

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Jim Mora Isn’t Afraid of the Challenge at College Station and that’s Refreshing to Hear

Being able to talk to coaches during game week is something that many media types enjoy because of possible story lines being made. It can also very mundane because all you get is “coach speak”. Coaches are going to let you know what they want you to know and dodge any tough question. With that being said, the Pac-12 had their weekly conference call on Tuesday.

The coaches were talking in general terms, but there were a couple coaches that were not afraid of being up front about things. Hearing that confidence was like getting a nice, cool breeze on your face in the summer.

What was said during this conference call?

Let’s start with the biggest name in the conference. USC.

The USC Trojans have the most difficult schedule in the country. They are lining up against National Champion Alabama. Head coach Clay Helton is very familiar with the OC of the Crimson Tide Lane Kiffin and what he likes to do. According to Helton, he certainly is trying to use what he knows about Kiffin against him.

“Every team has tendencies. You try and find tendencies by groupings and personnel groupings. Lane has things he likes in short yardage, on the goal line, and between the 20’s. I’m looking forward to the chess match.” Helton said.

Through all the questions on Kiffin, Clay Helton let nothing but compliments fly out over the phone. No surprise there. Helton and Kiffin worked together. Lane Kiffin gave Clay Helton his shot at coaching at USC, so expecting anything but praise from Helton would be a surprise.

Washington head coach Chris Peterson has a team that is receiving a lot of hype was excited about getting the season started. I was expecting him to deflect the hype.

“We have talked about the hype. They know that we have to prove it on the field. We were only 7-6 last season and now we are supposed to be some great team. The players know the hype means nothing unless we show it on the field.”

With Peterson and his Husky squad fully taking on the hype, knowing it’s there, but realizing it means nothing is refreshing to see. There is talent on the Huskies, but they absolutely have to show it on the field. The number 14 ranking they got by the AP was too high in my opinion. That ranking was based on pure speculation that the talent they have takes the next step.

Prove me wrong Washington. I’d love to see a return of the Dawgs.

UCLA comes in as the favorite in the south division. Jim Mora is looking forward to the game with Texas A&M.

“Our young men love to compete. We are getting that opportunity on Saturday. An SEC environment, a chance to compete is what our guys are after. We want to take advantage of that.” Mora mentioned.

Mora’s Bruins do not want to back down from anybody this year. They know the target is on their back.  He is certainly putting it out there that his Bruins are not afraid about getting a tough first game.

If people think the Bruins will be bothered by the noise at College Station, think again. Dealing with noise is nothing new for UCLA.

“Oregon, Arizona, and Washington all have some of the best stadiums in terms of crowd noise, so College Station won’t be anything new for us.” Mora explained.

“The players know that College Station is going to be loud, but we practice with noise to try and help with communication.” Mora said.

Mora is doing his part to make sure his team is ready for the challenge of an SEC team.

Coaches don’t let anything out of the bag on a game week and hearing them talk about their upcoming games that was evident.

However, I liked how both Chris Peterson of Washington and Jim Mora of UCLA were straightforward in their answers about the season. They both had a matter-of-fact tone in their voices.

Dodging questions about your opponent or not saying what you think about your chances in a particular game is pretty stupid. Don’t be afraid of bulletin board material.

Putting up bulletin board material up for the other team is overrated to me. Fans and media make too much about that. Peterson and Mora sound like they expect to win and really are not afraid to say so. I like it when coaches show the confidence in their team. A little bravado doesn’t hurt anybody.

E-mail Mike at mike.wilson@campuspressbox.com or follow him on twitter @pigskinopinion.

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The 2016 Pac-12 Champion Will Be One of These Two Teams Not Named USC

Winning the Pac-12 Conference in football is a difficult thing to accomplish. The conference is known for being one that eat its own, and this year won’t be any different. The question that gets asked this time of year is who will be playing for the Pac-12 Championship?

Stanford and UCLA will be the two teams left standing at the end of the season.

Why?

Stanford

Stanford returns to the title game after winning the Pac-12 title in 2015. Under head coach David Shaw, the Cardinal has won conference titles, gone to three Rose Bowl’s, and was very close to squeezing into college football playoff. The experience of this success will be something for Stanford to rely on in 2016. Experience counts for something in football and Stanford has experience in spades.

Christian McCaffrey will have something to say about the Cardinal getting to the title game. McCaffrey is coming off a season that was one for the record books, but he will be will looking to show that 2015 was not a fluke.

Coach David Shaw has one plan.

“We will get Christian the ball as much as humanly possible. We would be crazy to think otherwise.” Shaw explained at the Pac-12 Media Days in July.

The other part of Stanford that I believe will help them return to the Pac-12 title game is their ability to line up and smash teams. The Pac-12 is a finesse conference, so having the ability to line up and act like an SEC team is advantageous for them.

Stanford is replacing a couple of players on the offensive line, but they have shown that they can find big, tough guys for the offensive line and it works.

Being in the Pac-12 North will be tough on Stanford. They have to play at Oregon, at Washington, and Washington State at home. Nothing easy there. Plus they have to travel to Notre Dame, so that’ll be another challenge.

However, when it’s all said and done, the Stanford Cardinal will be the representative from the North Division.

UCLA

The Bruins come into this season as one of the teams that has a returning quarterback, and at this level that means a hell of a lot.

Josh Rosen is becoming a household name, and if he leads the Bruins to a conference championship he becomes a nationwide name. Rosen is the biggest key to the Bruins chances in the Pac-12 South.

Josh Rosen is easily the most talented Bruin, but he’s not the only talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Bruins.

Rosen has a talented trio of running backs that will provide much-needed punch to the offense. Keep your eye on Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks, and Bolu Olorunfunmi. There is plenty of speed between the three of those players to create problems for the opposing team.

UCLA will be the winners in the South because of Rosen and the ability of the offensive line to protect him. There are some new faces on the line, but Texas transfer Jake Raulerson joins the Bruins this season to solidify the o-line.

The schedule for the Bruins is one that works well for them. They avoid Oregon and Washington, but have to face Stanford, USC, Utah, and Arizona at home. Three those four teams are South division teams, so those wins are crucial.

UCLA has the talent, schedule, and quarterback to get them to the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford.

Pac-12 Champion

Stanford wins the conference title again with Christian McCaffrey as the best all-around player in the country, a tough offensive line, and the best coach in the Pac-12 in David Shaw. I trust what Coach Shaw is doing with his program. Shaw’s results speak for themselves. UCLA is talented and has the best quarterback in the conference with Josh Rosen. However, Stanford just has more experience, toughness, and talent right now than UCLA. Stanford beats UCLA 45-21.

E-mail Mike at mike.wilson@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

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The Washington Huskies’ Bark is Worse than its Bite

Hype can be a dangerous thing for any football team. It can motivate a team to loftier goals or it can do just the opposite. Hype causes expectations to get raised by the media, fans, and players. The 2016 Pac-12 Conference team that is receiving hype is the Washington Huskies. Have the Huskies done something to deserve the hype? Can they live up to the hype or will they wilt under this new pressure?

I don’t think the hype is warranted for the Huskies.

First of all, the Huskies have not beaten a team of consequence in the Pac-12. Beat an Oregon, a UCLA, Stanford, and I’ll buy into the hype that a lot of people want to throw upon Washington. The program has lost 12 straight to the Ducks and with the game being in Eugene this year, that streak doesn’t appear to be ending. Stanford is favored to win the conference, so that’ll be a game in which getting a win will be tough. UCLA has probably the best quarterback in the conference and that’ll make defeating the Bruins that much harder.

The Huskies did beat USC last season, but beating the drama filled Trojans last season isn’t saying much.

Here’s why I don’t trust the Huskies and all this hype. In one possession games last season, they were 1-3, with the lone win being over USC. However, when you take into account the six other top-50 programs that were on the schedule they were a dismal 0-6. Washington was competitive in those games, but being competitive is one thing, while actually winning those games is something totally different.

Win those games this year and I’ll climb on board the Husky train. Until then, I don’t think so.

The hype has surrounded their young quarterback Jake Browning, but putting this pressure on Browning can actually work against his development. If things start going south for him it could get ugly. Young quarterbacks start forcing things into tight windows on their throws and doing things that they are not ready to do. Browning is good, but being ready to lead can be a difficult thing for any quarterback. He needs to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump for Washington to make believers out of more than their fans.

Do the Huskies have some nice pieces? Absolutely, but these pieces don’t warrant Pac-12 Championship talk. At least not yet.

Having seen them in person against Arizona State last season I certainly saw the potential with the team. Washington was as athletic as anybody, but their youth was evident. Turnovers and penalties helped destroy what would have been a nice road win.  The good, young skill players that they have still needed some seasoning.

Chris Peterson spoke of this breakthrough moniker at the Pac-12 football Media Days. He compared the hype surrounding his team to the new Pokemon game that is taking over everyone’s phone.

“We’re amused-that’s probably the best word-that we continually get better every single week with doing nothing. We have as much hype as the new Pokemon game that nobody knows anything about, but thinks is really cool.” Peterson said.

Peterson has a point. The Huskies are coming off a season where the record was only 7-6. He seems a bit befuddled about why his team is getting this love.

“We want to get out there, and get better, and we want to get a chance to go prove that we’re getting better.” Coach Peterson explained at the Pac-12 Media Days.

At the end of the day, the Huskies have a tough road ahead of them in the Pac-12 North division. They have to battle two of their biggest rivals in Oregon and Washington State. The Huskies also have to contend with Stanford as well. Washington has to beat two out of these three teams to legitimately have a shot at the division crown.

The Washington Huskies may be the hyped Pac-12 team going into the season, but don’t expect the hype to be fulfilled.

 

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Don’t Sleep on the Washington State Cougars in 2016

Every football season there are teams that have the potential to surprising fans. Entering into the 2016 Pac-12 football season the Washington State Cougars have that potential. Many preseason prognosticators look at Stanford, Oregon, or UCLA as the probable winners of the conference. However, there is a team in Eastern Washington that I believe is a dark horse to ruin those thoughts.

The Washington State Cougars are coming off a successful season in which they went to a bowl game and beat Oregon and UCLA on the road.

At the Pac-12 football media days, head coach Mike Leach was fairly optimistic about his team’s chances.

“We have some good pieces to the puzzle, it is just about putting those pieces in the right spot, so everything comes together,” Leach said.

One of the things coach Leach has working in his favor is an experienced quarterback in Luke Falk. In this “Air-Raid” offense of Leach’s, Falk puts up incredible numbers for the Cougars. Last season, Luke Falk threw for 6,420 yards, 51 touchdowns, and had a completion percentage of 69%. Falk is looking to go over the 5,000-yard barrier in 2016.

[Wilson: Luke Falk: The Best Quarterback You’ve Never Heard Of]

If Falk can duplicate those video game statistics, then he will put the Cougars in a great position to take Pac-12 North division and possibly the conference championship. Coach Leach has been impressed with his quarterback’s development in the offseason.

“His footwork has got better and better with every rep and now it’s continuing to develop that consistency that he needs to get to that next level,” Leach said about his quarterback.

However, you need more than a quarterback to make a run at a conference title. What does Washington State have besides Luke Falk?

With all those yards that Falk threw for, he needs a balanced running attack. The Cougars have a three headed attack in the backfield.

The Cougars top three rushers are returning to fold in 2016 and that will help take some pressure off of Falk. It’ll also keep opposing defenses from pinning their ears back and coming after Luke Falk on every down.

Gerard Wicks, the Cougars leading rusher is returning in 2016. He had 107 rushes for 610 yards, Jamal Morrow also comes back with his 347 rushing yards. Finally, Keith Harrington comes back with his 238 yards on the ground. That is almost 1,200 yards of rushing offense for the Cougars. That was enough to keep opposing defenses off balance last season. That needs to improve though for 2016.

Luke Falk had many games where he had over 40 throwing attempts and even one game where he had 74 attempts passing. More balance is needed for this offense.

I don’t want to see Falk with a dead arm halfway through the season and the chances of a special season go dead as well.

The top receiver returns to give the offense the same added punch that they had in 2015.

Wide receiver, Gabe Marks, returns and brings his 1,192 yards of offense with him. Having Marks return was a bit of a surprise because many thought he would take the jump to the NFL. Behind Marks is a plethora of depth and speed for the Cougars. Watch for these receivers to stretch the opposing defenses and make life miserable for the rest of the league.

A couple of areas that do concern me for the Cougars are on the offensive line and showing a greater improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Luke Falk’s blindside will have two sophomores protecting it. Andre Dillard, who the coaches really like and an absolute beast in 6’8”, 351 pound Cody O’Connell, who can overpower anybody who comes at him. However, they have limited experience. It is different when you go from watching the action to being right in the middle of it.

Defensively, showing continued improvement is a must. Wazzu went from 95th to 72nd in defensive efficiency last season. They can’t afford to slide at all. The offenses in the Pac-12 demand that you come with a good defense so you don’t get 100 points dropped on you.

If the Cougars can jump 23 spots with the defensive efficiency, then there is no excuse not to do it again in 2016.

On paper, the Cougars have the ingredients to get to 10 wins in 2016. Mike Leach has the program trending up and that trend should continue in 2016. Right now, the Washington State Cougars are my dark horse team to win the Pac-12 North division.

E-mail Mike at mike.wilson@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Pac-12 Links: Arizona, California, and USC Quarterback Issues

The USC Trojans typically get a ton of love from writers, whether it’s actually deserved or not. The Arizona Wildcats get dismissed quickly until they prove they deserve different. And, the California Golden Bears are not even in the discussion unless they have a number one draft pick at quarterback. What do all three of these teams have to do to get into and to stay in the discussion for a bowl or conference title for 2016? Let’s take a look.

Arizona

This program won the Pac-12 South division in 2014, but took a dive last season. A big part of that dive last year was due to injuries to key players like Anu Solomon and Scooby Wright.

Arizona is one of those football programs that takes a backseat to their basketball program. They have won in the past, but not to the level that would create a buzz every time a new season is on the horizon. How do they get back to what they were in 2014?

Somehow, someway, the Wildcats coaching staff has to come up with a way to keep Anu Solomon off of his back. Do they venture away from the read-option and try develop Solomon as a better pocket passer? I would.

I know the read-option is the fashionable kind of offense, and there are aspects of it that I like, but if you want to have a solid quarterback, you have to develop his pocket presence. I’m not convinced he knows how to break down a defense at the line of scrimmage yet and he’s going to be a true junior this season. This will be something I’ll be watching this year.

A player to watch in case Anu Solomon gets injured: Brandon Dawkins.

Dawkins is a big -framed player who has a big arm which means he can throw the deep ball. The deep ball is something that Solomon can’t do, so if he struggles, look for Dawkins to come in and lead the offense.

California

In the post-Jared Goff era, questions abound in Berkley. Who is going to lead the offense? One of the possibilities is Davis Webb, the Texas Tech transfer. Webb originally transferred from Colorado, but when head coach Sonny Dykes came calling, Webb changed his mind and enrolled at California.

With Webb on the roster what does this mean? Does Webb automatically take over the offense and become the starter? Possibly, but nothing is guaranteed in college football. Does it mean that Sonny Dykes already has a starter in mind and will have Webb as their capable backup? Again, possibly.

My thought is that Dykes will go with the proven commodity in Webb. Having played in the wide-open offense of Texas Tech, the transition to Sonny Dykes open offense should not be much of problem. Anytime you switch schools and have to learn a new offense, growing pains will occur.

Part of me says that this is Sonny Dykes trying to figure out who is going to give him the best chance of winning games in 2016. Webb may be that guy and if he doesn’t take advantage of Webb’s game experience then he may not have the chance to figure it out next season.

USC

In the City of Angels, the question about who will play quarterback is at the top of everybody’s list.

Clay Helton may not have a bigger question in his first full year as the head coach of USC. What are his choices?

Coach Helton has a choice between junior Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. Browne is the presumptive nominee to take over the quarterback position for the Trojans, but did not separate himself from the Darnold during spring ball.

Both quarterbacks have the “look” of what coaches want. Max Browne is 6’5”, 220lb, and supposedly has a great arm. Sam Darnold is 6’4”, 215lbs, with a good, accurate arm and has something that Browne doesn’t. Darnold has mobility to help extend plays and put additional pressure on defenses.

Who gets the starting Trojan quarterback job?

Max Browne will. I don’t think Clay Helton will put a redshirt freshman under center against Alabama. Helton doesn’t want to possibly ruin a young player’s confidence by having him destroyed by the Crimson Tide defensive line. Now, I am not saying that Max Browne won’t be spending a lot of time on his back, but he has a bit more maturity so the coaching staff may be counting on that to mean something in the early part of the year.

Final Thoughts

I have said over and over that this is a transitional year for the Pac-12 because of the turnover at the quarterback position. Out of the three schools discussed here, Arizona is the only school with a returning quarterback, but he has questions about his health. California and USC are looking for replacements for their NFL-bound former quarterbacks. What will happen is anybody’s guess, but if the coaching staffs are worth their salaries they will figure these questions out.

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The Face of the Pac-12: Christian McCaffrey or Josh Rosen?

When you think of your favorite conferences or teams in this country you usually associate a player with said conference or team. Many people like to call it “The Face of the Franchise.” It got me thinking about how that saying applies to football in the Pac-12 Conference? Who is the face of the Pac-12, Josh Rosen or Christian McCaffrey?

At first glance, you might say Christian McCaffrey due to his finishing second in the 2015 Heisman Trophy voting and the highlight reel he created in his record-setting season last year.

If you believe Josh Rosen is the face of the Pac-12 then you are probably thinking long-term because he’s only going to be a true sophomore in 2016. He plays in the entertainment capital of the world and the amount of publicity you can get when you’re good in Los Angeles is unparalleled. Rosen has created his own highlight reel as a true freshman, but is it on the same level as McCaffrey’s?

What about Heisman Trophy possibilities for 2016?

Both of these players have a shot at winning the Heisman Trophy, but to different degrees.

Let’s start with Josh Rosen.

Rosen was the number one quarterback coming out of high school in 2014 and won the starting quarterback position at UCLA. Hcertainly proved to be worth the risk of starting a true freshman at, arguably, the most important position on a football team. The success of Rosen last season should have head coach Jim Mora excited about the prospect of an even better season in 2016.

The Bruins were 4-0 out of the gate last season, and while they did fade a little bit toward the end of the season, it was quite apparent that Rosen was going to leave his imprint on the Pac-12 by the time he’s done.

Here’s the imprint he’s made so far.

Josh Rosen threw for 3,669 yards, 23 touchdowns, had a quarterback rating of 134, and earned First Team Freshman All-American honors.

He also showed that he had a big arm that is accurate downfield and the ability to break down opposing defenses. Here is the other aspect that will have Rosen’s name in the Heisman talk: He takes care of the ball. He had a streak of 245 consecutive passes without an interception last season.

For writers who are asleep by the time Rosen is on the field, that consecutive pass statistic will be something they latch onto when they look at whether or not Rosen should be a legitimate Heisman candidate.

To me, Rosen is a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate. Every Heisman winner has “Heisman moments/highlights” and Rosen will have to have those in 2016 to even have a shot at it.

Christian McCaffrey, like Rosen, comes into the 2016 season with impressive stats and a highlight reel that is second to none in college football.

Unlike Rosen, however, McCaffrey already is placed at the top of many Heisman Trophy voters’ lists.

What McCaffrey did in 2015 was nothing short of a phenomenal. He should have won the Heisman, period. He’s the most versatile player in the conference and you could make the argument that he is the most complete player in the country. Sorry Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State fans, if he were on your team you would believe the same thing as all of us on the West Coast.

To provide some context for why Christian McCaffrey is getting all this love, let me remind you of his statistics.

McCaffrey had 3,496 all-purpose yards (NCAA record), 2,019 rushing, 6.0 yards per carry, 645 yards receiving, 13 total touchdowns, and 832 yards on kick returns/punt returns. If there was ever a drop the mic moment for a player, this would be it.

What are the odds he gets the Heisman this season? Well, if you ask Vegas odds-makers, Christian McCaffrey is in third place with 6-1 odds. Good odds, but to win the Heisman he is going to have to show that he can replicate what he did last season. Does that mean he’ll do it? Not at all.

He’s not sneaking up on people like he did last season. Pac-12 defenses will be focusing in on him and scheming their defenses to stop him. Plus, there will be a new quarterback for the Cardinal. That will put even more pressure on McCaffrey to perform at a high level.

At the end of the day when you take a look at both Josh Rosen and Christian McCaffrey and try to figure out who is the face of the Pac-12 you go with Christian McCaffrey. People know of Josh Rosen, but I don’t think they look at him as appointment television just yet. He doesn’t yet have the highlights that Christian McCaffrey has.

When you make fans stand up every time you touch the ball, you have captured something with them.

Stanford is going to be on the t.v. quite a bit this season and it’s going to be because of one person: Christian McCaffrey, the face of the Pac-12 Conference.

Image: Creative Commons