Tag Archives: Arizona State

USC Trojans Disappoint with Hiring of Lynn Swann

Family is important to most people in society because it provides stability, warmth, and a loving atmosphere. However, does it provide perspective? In Los Angeles where you have to keep perspective on most things USC is sticking with what is familiar and comfortable for them by choosing Lynn Swann as its new athletic director. This choice for the Trojans is being criticized by many and I am no different.

I thought the USC hierarchy would finally go outside the box and hire somebody that actually had some experience running an athletic department, but they settled on yet another Trojan with no experience to run one of the most glamourized athletic departments in all of college sports.

USC failed its fans with this hire. Trojan fans want somebody to restore order for them and to put the Trojan football team back at the top of the college football world. Lynn Swann does not do that in the least. Usually people with previous work qualifications for the job end up getting a huge gig like this. Nope. Not at USC because the only thing that they apparently look at is if you played for USC at some point in the past.

Coming into this job Lynn Swann’s only previous work experience in college athletics would be that he was a sideline reporter for ABC Sports/ESPN over 10 years ago. That’s it. That’s all she wrote folks. Come July 1, Lynn Swann will be in charge of arguably the premier sports department on the West Coast with no more than a microphone worth of experience in college athletics.

Does this make you feel good Trojan fans? I hope not because you deserve better than this. The history behind hires like this for Trojan family does not exactly ring like a sound endorsement for the school.

They hired former running back Mike Garrett to run the athletic department and his gross oversight of the Trojan athletic department led to bowl bans and sanctions for both football and men’s basketball. Garrett, in all his smugness, when he was asked about the troubles in the athletic program at USC merely said that other schools were “envious” of the Trojans. Really? Yeah, I am sure they were jealous of the USC predicament of being kept out of bowl games and not going to NCAA Tournament. The loss of revenue was probably a minor detail as well for these other “envious” schools. Garrett’s last act was to hire former Trojan assistant coach Lane Kiffin. How did that work out?

Pat Haden was supposed to rescue USC, but he did not rescue anything or anybody. He had no more experience than Lynn Swann has. Haden fires Lane Kiffin on the tarmac at LAX after a big defeat at Arizona State, hires Steve Sarkisian and says he didn’t know about Sark’s drinking issue. That was about as big of a denial as Steve Sarkisian thinking he didn’t have a drinking problem. Haden comes out of the press box to defend his coach at Stanford which was a negative for the program. He eventually fires Sark over the drinking issue and that brings us to this week.

Everybody knows that the resources at USC are world class. So, you would think that an institution like USC, given two months to look for a qualified candidate, would be able to come up with somebody that would have the experience to lead the Trojan athletic department for the next 10 plus years. Guess again. This was the best they could come up with.

Lynn Swann. Just let it sink in Trojan fans.

Maybe he provides some out of the box thinking that the athletic department sorely needs. However, it may just be some of the same at USC. I don’t see anything, but the same old stuff for Trojans. They are trying to recreate the Pete Carroll era and it’s not working at all. It’s tough to strike lightening twice, even at USC.

USC needed to go outside the box and it didn’t. USC needs perspective and by staying in the family, it lost that perspective.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

*Featured image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Pac-12 Coaching and Player Changes

The season is over and now the changes to coaching staffs and player personnel happen that can alter the fortunes of many programs for the upcoming season. There has been plenty of turnover for many schools in the Pac-12 Conference. Which ones will pay immediate dividends? Which ones will take time? All great questions, but one of the things that the Pac-12 has going for it is that many coaches and players want to be part of the conference because of its competitive nature and its exciting brand of football. Let’s look at these changes.

Pac-12 North

California

The coaching changes almost happened at the top of the coaching staff with Sonny Dykes. It seemed like Dykes was interviewing for any open job in college football and had no interest in returning to Berkley. In the end, he returned, with a new contract, more money, and gives the football team stability with his return. The big personnel change will be with Jared Goff leaving for the NFL. Goff arguably the best quarterback in the conference in 2015 will be a very tough player to replace because of his mental and physical abilities that he brought to the table for California, but that responsibility looks like it will be thrown upon freshman Chase Forrest. The Bears made a bowl for the first time in years and to maintain this positive roll for the program Sonny Dykes needs make sure Chase Forrest is the quarterback for the program moving forward. The quarterback position will be the biggest question for the Golden Bears going into 2016.

Stanford

Finishing third in the final poll of the season was a great accomplishment for David Shaw, his staff, and players. What David Shaw has done since he took over is amazing. He is getting great talent combined with having a “Stanford intelligence” to come to Palo Alto to play football. Going into next year there isn’t a lot of turnover with the coaching staff at all. Why leave a good thing, right? However, on the player personnel side, they will be missing Barry Sanders Jr and Kevin Hogan. They will also be missing some possible linemen as well. Michael Rector, Cardinal receiver will be coming back for his fifth and final year of eligibility. Replacing Hogan will be a big task for Head Coach David Shaw, but let’s remember, he still has Christian McCaffrey. When you have him, it’ll make the job of the quarterback a little more bearable, but much like California, the quarterback question will be a big one for the Cardinal.

Oregon

Questions abound in Eugene. After the debacle of the Alamo Bowl in which the Ducks lost a 31-0 lead and lost in overtime people are wondering if the Duck run of success is over. Other people are wondering if they can develop a quarterback in the post-Mariota era at Oregon. Vernon Adams comes in, does a decent job, but gets injured and his back up, Jeff Lockie stinks up the stadium with his play. Lockie, a career back up at Oregon, looked like he hadn’t been taught the game at all. Once again, the Ducks have a fifth year transfer player in Dakota Prukop this year and he’s already on campus taking classes, so there will be no Vernon Adams issues in terms of classes. Enter new quarterbacks coach David Yost, who comes over from Washington State to help develop Duck quarterbacks. Other changes also are former Michigan Coach Brady Hoke who will be the new defensive coordinator replacing Don Pellum who was moved to linebackers coach. All in all, a season of change is upon the Oregon Ducks. How will it go? Only time will tell.

Oregon State

The Beavers will be looking to improve upon their disaster of a season in 2015 where they only had two wins under first year coach Gary Andersen. The coaching change at defensive coordinator will be the one area that could garner most of the discussion going into 2016. Kalani Sitake left Corvallis for the head coaching position at BYU, so Coach Andersen went and got Kevin Clune to take over at defensive coordinator. New schemes, new way of thinking for a defense that ranked near the bottom in defense in the country. The Beavers will also have co-offensive coordinators in T.J. Woods and Kevin McGiven. Once again, new schemes and new ways of thinking on the offensive side of the ball. The Beavers need to continuity and stability on both sides of the ball and hopefully after all this change it happens for them. Coach Anderson will have to give the fans something more than two wins to get excited about. It’ll be tough, but Coach Andersen is committed to bringing a winner to Oregon State and I, for one, believe he can do it.

Washington State

For all the talk about the demise of Mike Leach, it may have been greatly exaggerated. Washington State was the surprise team in the Pac-12 by a wide margin and ended the year with a great win over Miami in the Sun Bowl. Changes are occurring in the Palouse for Leach and his staff though. David Yost, left to coach the quarterbacks at Oregon, JaMarcus Shepard comes from Western Kentucky to coach receivers, Dave Nichol is added to the receiver coaching staff as well, and they will get a graduate transfer from Michigan in Logan Tuley-Tillman who will provide immediate help to the offensive line. Mike Leach has to keep the positive vibe going with the program because the hot seat he may have been on can be repeated with a disappointing season in 2016. The Cougars will be one of the few teams in the Pac-12 to have a returning quarterback in Luke Falk, so that will not be the question. The question is can the coaching staff build upon 2015 with creating more depth and getting more talent to come out to Wazzu.

Washington

Washington also showed that they could be on the way up as well. Head Coach Chris Peterson was starting to hear the complaints and he actually turned in a season that Husky fans were fairly happy with. Peterson came from Boise State with that reputation as an offensive guru and really has yet to deliver on that. Like his rival at Washington State, Peterson will have a returning quarterback in Jake Browning. The Huskies will also have a returning running back in Myles Gaskin that has the speed of Reggie Bush and a returning offensive line that showed promise in 2015. The Huskies will not experience major changes in their coaching staff or their player personnel for 2016 and that has created a sense of optimism around the program. The defense was pretty good despite losing some major talent to the NFL and they will continue to get better and the offense showed by the end of the year that they would be considered more of strength than a liability going into next season.

Pac-12 South

Arizona

A season of disappointment happened for the Arizona Wildcats in 2015 and headed into next season there are plenty of questions. Will Rich Rodriguez be the head coach long term for Arizona? He had discussions with South Carolina about their opening and it certainly caused nervous moments in Tucson for a few days. Is Anu Solomon going to be their quarterback? He suffered through injuries and just a bad season when he was playing. Who will replace future NFL draft pick Scooby Wright on the defensive side of the ball? Wright created some much mayhem on opposing offenses, it’s going to be tough finding a guy that has a motor like Wright. Coaching changes abound for the Cats. Rich Rod has let defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel go, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich go, and cornerbacks coach David Lockwood go. By doing this he has to replace three fourths of his defensive staff. The Wildcat defense has become worse of the last three seasons and a change was needed in Tucson. Who will Rich Rodriguez get to come in? Good question, but they have to do something to return to the “Desert Swarm” days.

Arizona State

Where do I begin with the Sun Devils? A season of huge expectations came crashing down quickly and they were regulated to a very second/third tier bowl game in the Cactus Bowl against West Virginia. A game that they lost, which just put a disappointing stamp on the season. Offensive coordinator Mike Norvell left to be the head coach at Memphis and he took a few coaches with him. Chip Lindsey was hired as the new offensive coordinator for the Devils and he brings the same type of offense that Todd Graham likes to run which is that zone-read/spread offense. Kodi Burns was brought in to coach the running backs and he brings a wealth of knowledge from Auburn. The Sun Devils will also have to replace Mike Bercovici at quarterback and D.J. Foster at running back/wide receiver. Replacing that experience and talent will be a question facing the Arizona State going into 2016 as well as the coaching additions that the Devils will have.

Utah

Utah was the team I was pushing for winning the conference this past season. It was going well until a day against USC pretty much ruined everything and they ended up in the Las Vegas Bowl playing BYU. This may be a season of transition for the Utes, they will have questions at quarterback, punter, and running back because Travis Wilson, Tom Hackett and Devontae Booker are gone. What will Kyle Whittingham do? Oh, just reload with a bunch of players that have chips on their shoulders because bigger programs were not interested. That is what Whittingham has built his program on and he is getting a nice little pipeline of players coming from the island of Samoa too. As far as coaching changes, he recently named Justin Ena and Sharrieff Shah as special teams co-coordinators, which seems a little odd to have dual coordinators for special teams, but it’s what Utah does. Most of the coaching changes for the Utes have stayed within the program, only one of the changes comes from outside the program and that is Guy Holliday who comes from BYU to coach the receivers. The main questions will be who will be the quarterback and running back for the Utes? We shall see, but one thing is for certain, the Utes will be a tough out for any team.

Colorado

Colorado could be the Washington State of 2016 for the Pac-12, but then again, it’s Colorado. A lot of young talent that made life interesting for a lot of conference teams this past year, but could not quite get over the hump in terms of wins. Head Coach Mike MacIntyre has had a bit of a fixer-up project since he arrived in Boulder three seasons ago. Coaching changes have been minimal, but the one hire that stands out is Jim Leavitt who will be the defensive coordinator for the Buffaloes. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience from both the college and professional level. That is nice upgrade for the coaching staff. What do they have to do for 2016? Is the head coach on the hot seat? The answer to those questions is win and no, for right now. The Buffs just can’t get the talent to come to Colorado and when they do it’s because of a connection through family or others that gets the talent to Boulder. When you don’t win, talent does not come to you. They will have junior quarterback Sefo Liufau who has got better every year he’s been there, but the talent around him has not been the best for him. Right now if you can stop Sefo, you stop Colorado. If Colorado can’t get better and win, they will not have any success in the very tough Pac-12.

USC

The Trojans are the Pac-12’s version of a soap opera in recent years. With removing the interim tag from Clay Helton and making him the head coach, that removed some of the doubt from the program with coaching. Helton wasted no time in making sweeping changes to the Trojan staff. Helton has promoted Tee Martin to offensive coordinator, brought on Clancy Pendergast as the new defensive coordinator, and recently brought on Tommie Robinson as running backs coach. It’s not all the change, but these were the major ones for the Trojans. It’ll be Martin’s first chance to run an offense and he’ll have plenty of weapons to use. Adoree’ Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, a young offensive line, and a good running game. The question Tee Martin will have is at quarterback. Cody Kessler is gone, so this will be a major question for the Trojans for 2016. Helton will also be a question mark as well because he wasn’t the big name, big splash hire that many alumni wanted. Helton also didn’t endear himself to the faithful by losing to a Nebraska team that had a losing record. The talent is there, but can the new coaching staff put USC back on the map and at the top of the college football world?

UCLA

The Bruins were a trendy pick to win the Pac-12 Conference and to make it to the college football playoff. That didn’t happen. Bruins on losing talent on both sides of the ball. From running back Paul Perkins, defensive lineman Kenny Clark, Myles Jack, to wide receiver Thomas Duarte there is plenty of talent that Head Coach Jim Mora is going to have to replace with another stellar recruiting class. Josh Rosen is back for his sophomore season and he has all the skills to be a great quarterback, even a Heisman Trophy candidate at some point in his career at UCLA. Coaching changes are certainly happening for the Bruins. Mora promoted Kennedy Polamalu to offensive coordinator, brought Marques Tuiasosopo from USC to coach quarterbacks, and Rip Scherer will coach tight ends. People feared that the “Bruin Revolution” may be over, but with these hires fans are backing off of that thought. The big question for me will be the offensive line. Josh Rosen can’t perform any magic if he is getting hit all day, so the offensive line play is going to have to improve for the Bruins to do any damage next season.

All in all, there are plenty of questions for the Pac-12 heading into 2016 with coaches and players. What will we see? Hard to say in January, but as a fan of the conference let’s hope that coaches and players get things figured out, so the conference can return to the college football playoff and remind people that some of the best football is played out here in the West.

Pac-12 Review and Thoughts on the Future

The Pac-12 season is in the books for 2015, so what was the good, the bad, and the ugly about this season. From the drama at USC, the play of Josh Rosen, Gary Andersen’s first year at Oregon State, Vernon Adams at Oregon, the surprise of Washington State, Jared Goff’s career at California, the success at Utah, the splendid season at Stanford, and the phenomenal individual season of Christian McCaffrey. There is a lot to digest this year for The Conference of Champions, so here we go.

Pac-12 South

USC

The soap opera that is the USC Trojans made expectations just about impossible to meet. We all know what happened with former Head Coach Steve Sarkisian and his drinking issues. That was certainly the headline for a couple of months surrounding the program. It was ugly, real ugly. In comes newly minted Head Coach Clay Helton and proceeds to put his stamp on the storied program of Troy. He goes 5-2 as the head coach, gets the interim “tag” taken off, and then loses in the Holiday Bowl against a sub .500 Nebraska team. Not a great way to start the Clay Helton era, but with the amount of talent that is already on the roster, USC will look to build off of the bit of success that they had in 2015. I will be looking for the Trojans young talent to mature in the offseason and pay dividends in 2016. Fight On!

UCLA

Is there a team that plays in a better venue than the Bruins? Doubtful. When your home field is the Rose Bowl stadium that is a huge recruiting tool for the school. When did that advantage do for the Bruins? Hard to tell at this point. They are fortunate to have Josh Rosen, the top rated high school quarterback on their squad. Being a little lucky to see Rosen play in person, I could see the flash of brilliance that this young QB has. Having Rosen back for his sophomore year will help the Bruins, but it also puts a big target on his back for next season. One area that will be in question will be running back because multi-talented running back Paul Perkins is taking his talent to the NFL. Who is going to replace the 1,500 yard seasons that Perkins put up for the Bruins? Plus, who will the Bruins bring in to replace offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone? I believe the Bruins can recruit players to replace these players, but it will be interesting to see how fast this young talent can assimilate themselves in Westwood. Expectations are high with a young, stud quarterback, and the fan base won’t put up with many losses.

Utah

A season of great success ended with a rather big dud by the Utes going to the Las Vegas Bowl to play their hated rival in BYU. Kyle Whittingham has built something quietly in Salt Lake City and with this past season’s success it will fun to see if Whittingham can keep this going because he will be losing some pretty good talent on both sides of the ball. Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker are just some of the talent that will be leaving. Losing Booker late in the year affected how the offense ran and gave us a decent precursor to how this offense may look in 2016. Internally, the Ute’s have shuffled things around a bit by naming Morgan Scalley their new defensive coordinator. They also have added Justin Ena and Sharrieff Shah as co-special teams coordinators. The key for the Utes will be to keep the stream of talent coming into Salt Lake City to keep the Utes competitive in the ultra-competitive Pac-12 South. They need to get a quarterback that can throw the ball down field. Travis Wilson was an average quarterback, so they need a guy that strikes fear into opposing defenses. Building upon this season will be critical for the Utes. Let’s watch and see what happens in recruiting for them this offseason. That can tell us a great deal about the viability of the program moving forward.

Arizona

Things went south on 2014’s Pac-12 South champion in 2015 and injuries were a major player in the decline. Scooby Wright, the national defensive player of the year in 2014 was brought down early in the season and never returned, their quarterback Anu Solomon suffered through injuries, and their running back Nick Wilson could never shake the injury bug. Now, leaning on injuries as the crutch for the season is never something you want to do, but in the fourth season of Rich Rodriguez in Tucson this was something that clearly wasn’t expected. What can they expect moving forward? Well, they can expect Rich Rodriguez to possibly entertain other jobs like he did with the South Carolina opening this past December. With that lurking in the background in Tucson, can the fans truly trust Rich Rod? It makes fans and writers question his commitment to the program and this can adversely affect off season recruiting because if possible recruits don’t think Rodriguez will be there long term who is to say that the Pac-12 South crown they won will be the best it gets for the program. The Wildcats need a healthy Anu Solomon and Nick Wilson to compete, so this offseason will be critical to them and to the health of the program. Losing Scooby Wright to the NFL will hurt the defense as well. Who will replace the mayhem and sacks that Wright provided? There are more questions than certainty with this program right now and those questions need answers that will only come in time. It’ll be a nervous offseason for the fans of the Wildcats.

Arizona State

Pre-season people, myself included, thought that this Sun Devil team could do something incredible this past season. Well, that thought went down the toilet in the first few games of the year. The offense went into slow motion and could never get started in time to completely dominate anybody. They struggled with teams like New Mexico and Cal-Poly which made the fan base boo the team practically anytime struggles were noticed on the field. Personally watching them get destroyed by USC was mind blowing. The Sun Devils looked like a freshman high school team against them and then they go on the road on beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Talk about a hot and cold team. The 2015 Sun Devils were the classic definition of that term. The upcoming season will be one of questions. They will have a new offensive coordinator who will be looking for a new quarterback to run Todd Graham’s zone-read type of offense. They had the wrong guy to do that with Mike Bercovici and that was some of the issue this year. Bercovici was guy who liked to go downfield, he was more of gun slinger than a mobile quarterback. They need to have the right personnel to do what they want to do. That’s the key for any football team. Let’s see what Graham and his merry band of Sun Devils can provide for their fans in 2016. Forks Up.

Colorado

What can the Buffaloes do to get out of the basement of the Pac-12 South? Beyond the simple answer of just win more games it’s hard to say. Winning does help, but you have to have the talent to win those games. The question will be about getting that talent to help the Buffs climb out of the Pac-12 South cellar. The Buffaloes are nearly 25 years from their early 1990’s dominance and without any semblance of winning in that time it is no wonder why kids of any talent level are not going to Boulder to play football. Winning gets talent. Period. If you don’t have wins or a recent history of winning, players want nothing to do with you and that is currently being proven out by Colorado being ranked last in the Pac-12 in recruiting by Rivals.com. In the end, Colorado has to recruit better or their spot at the bottom of the Pac-12 Conference will be cemented every year.

Pac-12 North

Oregon

If you are down by 31 to the Ducks you are still in the game. Giving up that 31 point lead to TCU in the Alamo Bowl had to be the low point in the Duck 2015 season, but it did show a glaring question for the Ducks. Can the Duck offensive staff develop a quarterback of their own? I’m not sure they can. The Ducks have another 5th graduate transfer coming to play for them in 2016. Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop is already on campus and enrolled in class unlike the dilemma the Vernon Adams caused the team last summer. Who is behind Prukop that could come in and provide the same thing as him? A bunch of unknown players is what the Ducks have. They will have many of their skill players back, but if there is any instability at quarterback the Ducks are in trouble. That’ll be the question for newly hired Dave Yost, who comes from Washington State to coach the quarterbacks. He has his work cut out for him. It’ll be the major thing to watch in Eugene next season.

Stanford

The season started off ugly with that loss at Northwestern and many questioned if the Cardinal season was over after week one. I doubt Head Coach David Shaw did. He just went to work and figured out what he needed to do to get this team rolling. It turned out that all he needed to do was to get Christian McCaffrey involved in about every part of the offense. Once that happened, things started happening in Palo Alto. McCaffrey had the best single season in total yards ever. I had my eye on this player going into the season and he exceeded every expectation I had for him. The downside was the crushing home loss to Oregon that pretty much kept them out of the college football playoff, but they rebounded and beat Notre Dame and made Iowa look pedestrian in the Rose Bowl. The question I have for the Cardinal is at quarterback and their defense. Kevin Hogan is done and like Oregon have many unknown players behind him. The defense, especially the secondary needs to improve. People could throw on the Cardinal all day and to survive in the pass happy Pac-12, that needs to tighten up.

Washington State

The surprise of the conference by far. I thought they would battle Oregon State for last place in the Pac-12 North. I was way off with that. The Cougars finally got things going with their “Air Raid” offense under Mike Leach. Luke Falk who looked bad against Portland State in the opener as the Cougars lost to a regional foe at home, but came back to lead Washington State to an 8-4 record and raised hopes in Pullman about a comeback for this program. Mike Leach and his team have to come into 2016 and have the attitude of improving on their 2015 record. They will have Falk back as well as plenty of fast, quick skill players. If this doesn’t happen though, Leach goes back on the hot seat with his job.

California

Is Sonny Dykes going to stay long term? Dykes had his name mentioned in other jobs like Missouri and South Carolina and that caused some anxious moments for people in the Bay Area. Will this type of job looking affect the talent that they are trying to recruit? If players think the coach won’t be there, they tend not to show up on campus. The other question will be about who will take over at quarterback. Jared Goff is leaving early for the NFL and certainly Sonny Dykes has benefitted from having a great player under center. This will show me how good of a coach he really is. Can he develop the next quarterback? Does he have a quarterback ready for 2016? California needs to continue this play of getting to a bowl game and getting some much needed winning at Berkley. If they can’t, their hated rival at Stanford will continue to grab all the headlines and the Golden Bears will be an afterthought on the football field.

Washington

What do we have at Washington? We have a program with a storied past, but with a mediocre present. The future is looking up with their quarterback Jake Browning, who will be a true sophomore and Myles Gaskin, who will also be a true sophomore, and reminds me of Reggie Bush with his speed. Head Coach Chris Peterson, who came to Seattle with his reputation at Boise State has seemed to turn the corner with this program. That reputation was called into question with the season opening loss to Peterson’s former school Boise State, but ship was corrected. Here is the question though. Can he continue to recruit the guys that fit his style? If the Huskies can continue to win, the talent will come. Browning and Gaskin have to continue to develop and get better and there is no reason to believe they won’t, the sky is the limit for the 2016 version of the Washington Huskies.

Oregon State

Where do I begin with the Beavers? It’s hard to say because there are so many glaring issues for them going into this off season. The low point for Oregon State was getting blown out on a weekly basis and not seeing any improvement. When Mike Riley left for Nebraska, he left the cupboards pretty bare. The Beavers had a decent offensive line, but a true freshman quarterback, an oft injured running back in Storm Woods and a totally new defense. They had to replace nine players on defense, put in a new defensive scheme, a new offensive scheme, get used to a different way of coaching with Head Coach Gary Andersen. It was a struggle in Corvallis this year. Recruiting is a big key for Andersen and his staff this year, so the losing that happened this year doesn’t become a habit for the Beavers. Questions for the Beavers will be at quarterback again because they started putting Seth Collins at receiver because he’s athletic and tall (6’3). Who will come in to play quarterback if they move Collins to receiver full time? They will also have a new defensive coordinator in Kevin Clune, so more new schemes for those young defensive players to learn. Gary Andersen needs to continue to build the program he wants and the fans need to show patience with this huge rebuilding project. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Put a Fork in the Pac-12

Coming into the 2015 college football season not many people thought that the Pac-12 would not be in the College Football Playoff. In my own mind, I thought that this was a very real possibility because of not having that one great team like they have had in Oregon that last few seasons and the way the conference “eats its own” by being so balanced from top to bottom. Any team can legitimately beat any team in the conference on any given Saturday and after what happened to Stanford and Utah on Saturday night, that scenario came to fruition. Now it’s time to kick some dirt on the Pac-12 for this year’s playoff possibilities.

What did the Pac-12 in this year?

Well, for one they are a conference is balanced from top to bottom more so than any other conference in the country. Having this strong of a conference is great, but if you don’t have one or two great teams in conference like they have had with the Oregon Ducks the past few years then it’s hard to get to the playoff. Oregon has not been what Oregon has been the past few years, but not having Marcus Mariota played a big part in the “down” season for the Ducks. Even though the Ducks pulled off the win against Stanford, having three losses will keep them out of the playoff for certain.

Secondly, they have had to many out of conferences losses that hurt the Pac-12 brand. Arizona State lost to Texas A&M, Oregon lost to Michigan State, Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, Washington lost to Boise State, Stanford losing to Northwestern, and USC lost to Notre Dame.

Where the pundits fooled by the Pac-12 this year?

Possibly. I certainly was fooled by Arizona State who was garnering a ton of talk about getting to the playoff. The Sun Devil Kool-Aid was handed out in buckets in the Pac-12, especially down here in the desert, and how did the Devils respond to this? They respond by having one of the most underwhelming seasons in recent memory. USC didn’t exactly turn out to be the dominant team that many people thought. They had other issues, like the Steve Sarkisian drama that helped do them in. UCLA has not done what many people thought they could. Losing to Arizona State, Washington State, and Stanford has destroyed them in possibly getting to the playoff.

Stanford and Utah were the conference’s remaining hopes, but dropped their games on Saturday night to ensure the Pac-12 is not going to the playoff. People still talk like they have a shot at it, but total chaos is going to have to happen for that to occur.

Where does the Pac-12 go from here? What do they have to do?

As I stated earlier, the Pac-12 takes tremendous pride on playing an extremely tough conference schedule and that is a true statement. These guys beat up on each other each week and if you take a look at the win-loss record of this conference they have a strong to point to be made. We are half way through the month of November and the conference has played its way out of the playoff because of its nine game conference schedule. People will start talking about the conference going back to an eight game schedule and to that I say, no.

Just because the conference has a year where they don’t make the playoff that doesn’t mean you make things easier for your football teams. I don’t want the Pac-12 to descend into what the Big 12 is, where we don’t play anybody except for a few games. Competition should be the most important thing to any conference, so when you already have great thing going why would you make changes? You don’t make changes. The Pac-12 is considered one of the top, if not the top conference on balance, and its teams have to work harder to get to the playoff. So what?

Does the conference want to descend into a less competitive league? I know Larry Scott, Pac-12 Commissioner, doesn’t want to see that. He sees it as a badge of honor that they play the schedule that they do. The Big 10 is going to a nine game schedule, they see the value in it, so why would the Pac-12 see a lesser value in it because they didn’t make the playoff?

In the end, the Pac-12 is not making the college football playoff this year. Do they change the course that they have chosen? Not at all. The schools, coaches, and players have to work harder to create one of those juggernaut teams that will help the conference get to the playoff. The talent in coaches and players is there for the conference already. The Pac-12 is just fine and will continue to be a great league for college football. They are not making the playoff, relax Pac-12 fans, WE will survive.

Arizona Needed This Cardinals Redemption

The state of Arizona was poised for a big weekend of football, with its two programs in major College Football hosting conference foes from Southern California’s City of Angels, and since Los Angeles offers no chapters in the NFL, fans of the Sunday game had to settle for the Cardinals’ division rivals from the Golden State’s northern region.  Saturday’s prime-time game in Tucson was so hyped, in fact, that the folks in Bristol decided to host their morning road-show at the University of Arizona, while the Trojans visit to Tempe was more of a night-cap than anything else.

Even Sunday’s game, FOX decided, was worthy of the network’s #2 broadcast team of Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, and Tony Siragusa.  Ceding “A-team” status to the Chicago-Seattle game was probably more about the uncertainty of the 49ers, after a surprising Monday Night opener that may have dispelled everyone overreaction to their tumultuous off-season and the quite unsurprising egg they laid in a Week 2 loss at Pittsburgh.  It was difficult to doubt the merit of the Cardinals, who appeared to be every bit as good as their 2-0 record, entering play this weekend.

A Solemn Saturday

The thing about College Football, and I preach about this all of the time, is that you almost need to see the complete body of work to truly evaluate how good, or not good, a team is.  There’s a lot of fool’s gold to be offered from early season games, especially when you’re dealing with the PolyTechnics and directional state schools, which are not created equal.  Numbers next to school names on the schedule make for good marketing, but they never dictate how well a team is going to play on any given Saturday.  It’s a fallacy to look at the previous year, which we often do early in the season, since there’s so much turnover with graduation alone.

Coming into the year, five different people may have given you five different answers, when discussing the class of the Pac-12 South, which includes two Arizona schools, two Los Angeles schools, Utah, and Colorado.  Colorado was probably the only name not given during the time to predict a division champion.  Looking at Rich Rodriguez’s improvement, year over year, since arriving at Arizona suggested there was something there with the Wildcats.  Todd Graham’s Arizona State team looked decent on paper coming into the year, but a Week 1 thrashing from Texas A&M, paired with underwhelming home performances against Cal-Poly and New Mexico had many dismissing the Sun Devils.  However, ASU has handled themselves at home against USC, during what has obviously been a couple of down years for the Men of Troy.

Tucson got the pep rally from ESPN, they had the number by their name, and the football program had the requisite number by their name, which may or may not have made them worthy of the smack-talk towards their neighbors to the north and west.  They played in the Fiesta Bowl on the last day of 2014, and remain in possession of the Territorial Cup after winning their annual clash at home last November.  The Sun Devil faithful in the Phoenix-area returned the smack, because that’s how it goes out this way.  At the end of the night, neither fan base had anything of substance to say to the other.

In a game that resembled a track meet early between UCLA and Arizona, quickly became a touchdown marathon for the visiting Bruins, who made a similar statement at Arizona State in late September last year.  UCLA overcame the absence of 2-way star Myles Jack with the sensational and consistent play of Josh Rosen, the true freshman quarter, who was given the keys to the offense by head coach Jim Mora.  There was some euphoria before the game for the home team, who had star linebacker Scooby Wright back in the fold, but when Arizona lost their third-year starter Anu Solomon at quarterback, it was curtains for Week 4’s hosts of College Gameday.  Ultimately, they dropped this one 56-30, quickly reminding everyone that UCLA is a different ball of wax than that of Northern Arizona, Nevada, and Texas-San Antonio.

Arizona State fooled no one with their 2-1 start, and there’s little point in doing anything to reset their 42-14 defeat on Saturday night.  USC led 35-0 at halftime, and quite frankly, it actually could have been worse.  Sometimes decent teams play poorly, but this was just a case of the visiting team being better.  No one like going from National Championship contender to questioning bowl eligibility, but this is the bed that Arizona State has made for itself.

There will be a National Championship played in Arizona on January 11th of next year, but it will very likely feature two teams from outside of the state, at Univeristy of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.  Fortunately, the locals can enjoy the building’s primary tenants on Sunday afternoons.

A Sensational Sunday

In both the real world and the virtual one, the one where everyone’s name begins with an “@”, I am privy to discussions that compare and contrast the college game and the NFL, as if everyone can only choose one.  I tend to play the role of Switzerland in those conversations.  I like the volume of College Football, though I must acknowledge a gap in the quality of play, and in most cases the disparity with the level of competition.  I like that the staggered starts mean not every game is at the half at the same time, and over the course of 45 minutes, you can watch exciting finishes in 3 or 4 games, in their entirety.  I could do without the endless halftimes, one of several contributing factors to 4-hour games.

At the same time, I appreciate the lack of volume of NFL games, the highest quality talent, and how neatly everything seems to fit three-hour windows, give or take 20 minutes.  I like that Power Rankings mean nothing, and that a win is a win, regardless of the week’s opponent.  I like that, if properly equipped, you can watch every game in its entirety, without the necessity of a website or mobile app.  Of course, this means that you have to reset from end-of-game mode to start-of-game mode around 4pm Eastern Time.

On Sunday, during that transition from thrilling finishes in Cleveland and Cincinnati, to the beginning of the 49ers and Cardinals NFC West match up in Arizona, the Cardinals decided they had no interest in waiting for the early game audiences to take a deep breath.  Despite taking the opening kickoff and getting things going early, between Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona’s first drive stalled, but it was a couple of Colin Kaepernick throws that equaled crooked numbers on the scoreboard for the home team.

The first pass thrown by the San Francisco quarterback was picked off and returned 21 yards for a touchdown by Justin Bethel.  The fifth-year player from Nevada was fortunate to complete a couple of throws to his teammates, before Tyrann Mathieu stepped in front of his fourth pass of the day, running that one back 33 yards to paydirt, giving the home team a 14-0 lead without any serious aid from Palmer and the offense.

When Arizona’s offense finally got on the field, Palmer got to work, throwing to Fitzgerald a few more times and letting Chris Johnson do the rest on the ground.  On the first play of the second quarter, Johnson ran one in from six yards out, and the rout was on.  The Cardinals would pick off Kaepernick 4 times, sack him twice, and generally controlled the game in every way possible, on their way to a 47-7 victory, making them 3-0 in this young season.  This takes me back to a conversation I had over the summer with a friend, and long-time fan of the Cardinals.

At the time, this is a guy who could have stood a break or two in life, but it’s like John McCain told Chris Berman on the eve of Election Night in 2008; hope springs eternal with the Arizona Cardinals.  Those bastards went to the Super Bowl that year1They aren’t really bastards.  It’s just that I’m still waiting on the Browns to accomplish that feat; 46 seasons and counting., and they came damn close to winning the thing.  Back to that conversation over breakfast last summer, one of the things that kept this friend ticking was the statement that the Arizona Cardinals had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl.  This time I didn’t doubt him, and it wasn’t because I dismissed the conversation we had at a bowling alley before that miraculous 2008 season and playoff-run.  The crux of our prior discussion was to put that team in a vacuum; take away the Arizona, take away the Cardinals, and really think of Ken Whisenhunt’s team as a potential playoff team that year.  I wasn’t buying it, and I think it would have been foolish to believe anything of the sort, knowing the stigma of the Bidwill-owned Cardinals.

It was a different time back then, as we weren’t far removed from the forgettable Sun Devil Stadium Era Cardinals.  They weren’t just forgettable, but nearly unlikable.  I liked hearing stories from the season ticket holders, those who endured the days on the hot metal benches in Tempe, only because it was essentially the only evidence that the team played home games prior to 2006.  I’d seen video evidence of the Cardinals playing there just three times2It would be four, if we’re counting that Monday Night Football game from Jerry MacGuire, a sympathetic lifting of the league-mandated blackout for Sunday Night Football in Week 3 of the 2001 season, a Browns game that I watched from Cleveland, and Josh McCown’s Hail Mary to Nate Poole to end the 2003 season (and the Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes).

Even on Sunday, while the Cardinals’ defense was spotting their offense 2 scores early, we were talking about how there’s an actual home-field advantage at University of Phoenix Stadium, something that was virtually never true for the Birds at Sun Devil Stadium, at least when you considered the ratio of home team-to-visiting team fans.  People like me, the transplants from elsewhere, will never fully come around, but this is a team and a culture that should deter young people from choosing the Cowboys, Steelers, or Raiders.  It’s okay, and probably even cool, to like the home team.  Lord knows this market isn’t getting it on Saturday nights.

Bruce Arians has something special cooking for the fans in these parts.  Small sample size or not, what we’re seeing from the Arizona Cardinals is no fluke.

   [ + ]

1. They aren’t really bastards.  It’s just that I’m still waiting on the Browns to accomplish that feat; 46 seasons and counting.
2. It would be four, if we’re counting that Monday Night Football game from Jerry MacGuire

Pac-12 Notebook: Can The Pac-12 Regain its Footing?

Week two is upon us and nobody could be happier than the Pac-12 Conference. After the dismal performances by the Pac-12 in week one, fans are wondering if the conference is as good as many people, me included, make it out to be.

With so many people thinking that the sky was falling, we have had a week to digest what exactly happened, and a week to pump the brakes on how the Pac-12 is an overrated conference. It’s not overrated. They had a bad week and that’s it. Every conference has had a bad week and the same thing happened to them. People were ready to jump off the proverbial cliff with their teams and conference. Guess what? Their conference and teams rebounded during the rest of the season and performed just fine.

Now, I’m not saying that there are not concerns with the teams that lost, but every team that plays football has concerns. Time to take a look at what certain teams are worried about in the Pac-12.

Arizona State

People in this corner of the country tend to say “things come to the desert to die.” After last week, you would think the Sun Devil faithful were thinking the season was over and the hope of getting to the playoff or winning the conference was over. One thing is certain around the football team, and that is the positive thoughts about going to the playoff and winning the conference are NOT gone.

“I have a lot of confidence in what we are doing,” said head coach Todd Graham at his weekly press conference on Monday.

Coach, you better have that confidence because the way the team played last Saturday night was a disgrace to you and the program. To coach Graham’s credit he stated that the miscues were on the coaches because “we didn’t coach the players the way they should have been coached.”

The concerns that I have with the Sun Devils are with the cadence that the quarterback, (Mike Bercovici) used against Texas A&M, special teams, and no rhythm to the offense.

Bercovici became so predictable with his cadence that the defensive ends for the Aggies were jumping the count, and were making the offensive tackles for the Sun Devils look very pedestrian. On almost every play that was in shotgun formation for the Devils, monster defensive end Myles Garrett was in the offensive backfield putting Mike Bercovici on the ground. The quarterback needs to vary his cadence much better against the next couple of opponents. If Bercovici is still having problems mixing his cadence, by the time the USC Trojans come to town on September 26, he could be in for another long evening.

Special teams. Wow. They were nowhere to be found against Texas A&M. Coach Graham talked about how the players were going in the wrong lanes and that they didn’t have the correct players in the game. What? How does that happen? That is a coaching and player issue. Coaches need to be more aware of who is in the game and the players need to be awake to realize that they need to be in the game. Fix it Sun Devils.

Washington State

There are not any words to describe what needs to happen at Washington State. It’s a struggling program right now. Mike Leach’s seat just became very warm with the Cougars’ loss to FCS opponent Portland State. Leach was supposed to come to the Palouse and open things up and use his high flying offense to destroy the Pac-12. It hasn’t exactly happened.

Last weekend’s game with Portland State was indicative of that lack of progress. The Cougars showed no energy. They let an inferior team hang around, allowed them to make some plays, and eventually pull out a big win against a Power-five school.

Miscommunication was one of the big reasons for the loss according to Coach Leach. Calls being made defensively were not be relayed down the chain of command on the field. Safeties were not talking to the linebackers, linebackers were relaying calls to the defensive line for much of the game. Why? That has the coaches baffled as well.

“Somewhere in the course of three plays, somebody’s off the script,” Mike Leach stated.

Sounds like some of the problems the Sun Devils had with communication crept its way up to the Northwest and infected the Washington State Cougars. Some of the talk coming out of the Washington State this summer was that a bowl game was a possible goal for the program, but by the way they looked last week, that idea seems pretty far-fetched. Get it right Cougars.

Stanford

Has Stanford lost its mojo? They certainly lost their ability to open up a playbook and beat a team that they should have. Don’t get me wrong, Northwestern played very well, maybe a bit above their actual talent level, but Stanford was certainly playing way below their capabilities. As I watched this debacle happen, I continually sat there saying “Stanford will rev the engines and go on a drive or two to put this game away.” Then by the end of the third quarter, it became “Stanford does not have it today.”

The truth is that Stanford underperformed, Northwestern played very well and took the victory from Stanford. They earned the 16-6 win over the Cardinal.

The question I have is about the play calling on Stanford’s part. Was David Shaw calling the plays or was it the OC? Whoever it was needs to be questioned about why the play calling was ridiculously conservative. For this experienced offense to score only six points with returning quarterback Kevin Hogan and four, (yes four) returning offensive lineman is so incredibly stupid that it baffles my mind.

The offensive output for Stanford was less than average let’s say for the game against Northwestern and that has to change this weekend.  They will play the Trojans of USC the following week and can’t afford another lackluster game.

The Cardinal had 240 total yards, 85 rushing yards which meant 3.1 yard/carry, and just two field goals the WHOLE game. That will not get it done against anybody and Coach Shaw has to open it up for his players. For one, get Christian McCaffrey more involved with the offense. He’s a weapon for them and he seemed almost nonexistent last week.

I do think that Coach Shaw will come out of the conservative playbook and open it up for his team, and to a certain extent open it up for fans of the program. This is not the Stanford team that we are accustomed to seeing.

Fix it Stanford.

In the end, the Pac-12 has to perform better and win the games that they should. No more losing to FCS teams. Don’t play down to the competition. Play to your capabilities and show these other schools that you are the big dog. No more fooling around, otherwise those fans in the rest of the country will keep doubting your abilities.

College Football: Week 1 Features Ohio State’s Embarrassment of Riches

It only took five days, but our first weekend of College Football is in the books. We had a lot of chalk and some disappointment, but it was the “Wow!” moments that really jumped off the page. The bar was really set high for the individuals that the consensus expects to be in the running for that big heavy trophy, and for the schools interested in playing in that little tournament, well, they just had to win.

From the home of the Belk Bowl to the campus of the last program to slay the dragon that Urban Meyer built in Central Ohio, it was an extended weekend of debuts, vengeance, and perhaps an introduction to some new contenders. We’ll start in Blacksburg, where the first unanimous Preseason AP #1 team in the country took on Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies, seeking their pound of flesh for what took place in Columbus a year ago.

Ohio State 42 Virginia Tech 24

The story has been told, time and time again. Cardale Jones has never started a game in his own stadium for Ohio State, and on Monday night, he earned his first regular season victory, so it’s long past the time we stop referring to him as the Buckeye’s 3rd-string quarterback. In case you felt his previous three performances were some type of sorcery on the part of Meyer last December and January, the junior from Cleveland showed the magic is still there on Ohio State’s first possession, hitting Curtis Samuel on the money with a throw off of his back foot, good for a 24-yard touchdown. The next time the Buckeyes snapped the ball, Ezekiel Elliott went 80 yards to make it 14-0 in favor of the defending champs, perhaps making fans in Tuscaloosa feel better about things, but likely not.

It appeared the Buckeyes were going to roll, but misfortune, the type that goes beyond taking the field at Lane Stadium without Joey Bosa or Jalin Marshall on the field, struck, and the Hokies ripped off 17 unanswered, taking a 17-14 lead into the break. A missed Ohio State field goal gave the home team some momentum towards the end of the first quarter, but all of the credit in the world goes to Virginia Tech for designing a wheel route to full back Sam Rogers, who was all by himself on the left sideline. The big man had to hustle, but Eli Apple stood between him and the goal line and he shook the Buckeyes’ the third-year corner out of his shoes to cut the early advantage in half. Without the services of Marshall, Meyer had Elliott back returning punts, and call it inexperience or whatever, but the All-World running back struggled to field AJ Hughes second punt of the night, and four plays later, another nicely designed throwback to Ryan Malleck on third down gave the Hokies the lead.

Anyone remember Braxton Miller, the forgotten head on the three-headed monster of Ohio State’s open competition for the starting role last spring? They gave him a new number and a new position, and it only took him about a half of football to get his sea-legs beneath him. He did have a couple of rushing attempts and a nice diving 24-yard catch in the first half, which I think showed us he’s still a legitimate player, even when not behind center. On the third play of the second half, he took a pass from Jones and tip-toed by the Hokie defender, down the right sideline for 54 yards and the score. On the Bucks next offensive play from scrimmage, he gave the Scarlet and Gray their first Wow Moment of the season with a spin move that you can, yeah, only do on video games. From there, the rout was on.

https://vine.co/v/etJnO1lvnKm

Give Beamer and company some credit; they nearly made Mark May look smart. While the final score really was indicative of the game we watched, they did some really good things to take the straight-up running game away from Ohio State, despite big plays from Elliott and Miller, and they found enough vulnerabilities in the defense to put some points on the board and make this prime time affair interesting into the late night hours of Labor Day. The game really didn’t get out of hand until Brenden Motley had to spell starting quarterback Michael Brewer.

Unfortunately for Brewer, we live in a world where what you say with a certain expectation of privacy is subject to “going viral”. He was caught on camera, and yes, it’s likely he knew it was in his face, spouting off some one-liner about how it’s going to take a lot more than a fairly brutal hit he took on the Hokies last drive of the half to knock him out of the game. You can’t blame the kid; he was talking to his teammates in the locker room, more so than the national television audience through the lens of ESPN’s camera, but people are going to talk about karma. To that, I say “whatever”.

It’s widely believed that this is Ohio State’s last real test before Michigan State visits Columbus in November, and it’s hard to disagree. Up next, the Buckeyes get Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan at home, and then a relatively simple conference slate, though I’m not ready to overlook Minnesota’s visit to the ‘Shoe on November 7th. For the Hokies, don’t expect the season to instantly go down the toilet after this acceptable performance. Last year, East Carolina beat Virginia Tech on their home field a week after they stunned Ohio State. Don’t expect Furman to follow suit; in fact, I’d say you can expect the Hokies to get their own pound of flesh from ECU on the road in a couple of weeks, and for them to be competitive in the ACC.

Marshall 41 Purdue 31

It was tough sledding for Darrell Hazell and Purdue in the only game on the slate for this pre-NFL Sunday. If Hazell and his signal-caller Austin Appleby never see Tiquan Lang again, it will be too soon for the both of them. Though, I’m very open to the possibility that Appleby never saw Lang at all, yeilding two pick-sixes to the Thundering Herd’s junior safety, which were good for the first and last scores of the game.

On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Lang stepped in front of the intended receiver, and went 30 yards untouched to give Marshall the early lead, but there was still a good 59 minutes and change of football to be played. Purdue was able to recover on a DJ Knox touchdown run, on his way too a 100-yard day on the ground, but the game went back and forth all afternoon. The visiting Boilermakers led for most of the first half, until Devon Johnson put Marshall back up 34-31 with a 6-yard score, but Appleby had one more chance. After timeouts by both teams, it appeared the Purdue junior had too much time to think about it once again. And once again, an ill-fated pass attempt fell into the hands of Lang, who had to work harder on his second return, cutting across the field for a 55-yard score to put it to bed.

Given their early success in making the jump from Division I to Division I-AA with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss nearly twenty years ago, it’s difficult to believe Sunday’s win, in front of a home crowd of nearly 39,000 in Huntington, was the school’s first win over a Big Ten program, but the Boilermakers seem to be giving a few mid-Majors that milestone in recent years.

Alabama 35 Wisconsin 17

Hey Badger fans, I think Derrick Henry just scored again! Okay, maybe not, but the Alabama junior running back averaged 11.3 yards per carry, en route to three touchdowns on the ground at “The House That Jerry Built” in North Texas on Saturday. It probably would have been more, but the end zone kept stopping him. If there’s honestly a debate about the quarterback position at Alabama, and I don’t think there is, we gained no clarity about it on Saturday night. My gut tells me Nick Saban will let Jake Coker assume the role, unless his poor play forces his hand or Cooper Bateman takes things to a new level in the time he’s getting.

So, I know Gene Chizik was 5-19 at Iowa State before being awarded the Auburn job, where he landed the services of Cam Newton and won a title in his second season, so maybe I don’t read too much into Paul Chryst’s 19-19 mark at Pittsburgh. Seriously though, in Chryst’s debut with the Badgers, he wasn’t just behind the curve with the X’s and O’s, that Big Ten size and strength, which is supposed to be their finest asset in Madison, it’s not there. I’ve long thought that Barry Alvarez was the reason Gary Andersen chose a new gig in Corvalis over what he’s built in Madison, but he might have just seen the writing on the wall with what he wasn’t able to recruit. Sorry, but 16 yards on 8 carries for Corey Clement just isn’t getting it done; Melvin Gordon III isn’t walking back through that door and head coaches will dare Joel Stave to beat them all season.

Texas A&M 38 Arizona State 17

Is it possible to lose a game by more than just the numbers on the scoreboard? In being picked apart by Scottsdale, Arizona’s Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk, the very successful head coach of the Sun Devils, Todd Graham, was exposed for losses to the state of Texas in the recruiting game. Allen, the sophomore quarterback fighting off highly touted freshman Kyler Murray, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but Kirk was the star of the show. You get sick of hearing about video games when you’re discussing actual human athletes, but between his 79-yard punt return that put the Aggies up 14-0 early and his 66-yard touchdown catch and run, that status quo had cheat codes on their mind. I’d reference the Game Genie here, but it would be lost on everyone not born between 1975 and 1985.

After A&M’s season went downhill after their big win in the opener against South Carolina a year ago, Aggie fans can only be cautiously optimistic about Kevin Sumlin’s squad’s chances in the SEC. On the other hand, after watching how hapless the ASU offense was in Houston, there has to be some concern about senior quarterback Mike Berovici, a guy that wasn’t spectacular in his understudy role in 2014, despite the team’s success in games he started.

This neutral site game was the only game of any sort on the 2015 schedule that paired a Pac-12 school against a team from the Southeastern Conference. If you’re an SEC honk, you want the Sun Devils to dominate their conference. If you support a Pac-12 contender that isn’t Arizona State, you’re probably hoping your program isn’t basically a coin flip for that fourth playoff spot with a member of the SEC in December.

Northwestern 16 Stanford 6

We should probably acknowledge this battle of Academia that took place in Evanston, the most watchable matinee of the day on Saturday. Was this more about Kevin Hogan and Stanford being inept on offense, or does Pat Fitzgerald have a great defense at Northwestern? I fear David Shaw may be on the decline, the more we see time separate this program from the days of Jim Harbaugh.

One thing I’m hearing and I don’t agree with is that Stanford is suddenly too slow. Sure Hogan isn’t a runner on the level that Andrew Luck was, and Ty Montgomery is gone from the offense and special teams, but Michael Rector isn’t slow and we should see more of Christian McCaffrey in both the running and passing games. My guess is the offense works it out, but I don’t know if the glass is less than half-full when I look at that defense. The departing talent hasn’t been replaced, or the newbies haven’t been developed, but Northwestern owned the line of scrimmage when they had the ball. That’s going to be a problem for the Cardinal all year.

The victory in the trenches translated to a good game for running back Justin Jackson, who ran for 134 yards. However, it was quarterback Clayton Thorson’s 42 yard run, on what looked like a designed draw play, that represented the only touchdown of the day. The Wildcats will host an FCS team next week, and visit Duke in a few weeks, but expect them to finish non-conference play 4-0, setting up a big match up with Minnesota, on October 2nd at Ryan Field.

Ole Miss 76 Tennessee-Martin 3

Yuck, just yuck. Hugh Freeze, you’re in the SEC, and I know you want the home game at whatever price, but playing FCS foes is totally beneath you. Indiana got lucky doing this, but Wyoming, Washington State, and Kansas were not. Shame on everyone who partakes in this practice, even you Arizona State, where I’ll watch you rebound against cal-Poly, but still, Yuck!

Michigan State 37 Western Michigan 24

Kudos to the AD’s in East Lansing and Kalamazoo for making this happen, with the mid-major hosting the high major. PJ Fleck, your Western Michigan program isn’t quite there yet, but they didn’t look out of their element with a big boy from the Big Ten in town.

Michigan State might want to work on kick coverage this week, while the Broncos shouldn’t change a thing. Row your boat, fellas.

Charlotte 23 Georgia State 20

This game kicked off at 12:30 PM, during my work day on Friday. I caught the end on the ESPN app in my office. It was fourth College Football game I’d watched with some interest in a 24-hour span; yeah, I need help.

For the 49ers, it was their first game as an FBS program, and obviously also their first victory, but the Panthers of Georgia State made it interesting in the end.

TCU 23 Minnesota 17

I don’t know if I just don’t like the idea of B being a Heisman candidate, or if I have the bar set too high for him and, really, the rest of the Horned Frogs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think TCU is phenomenal when they have the ball, and that’s where the expectation comes from, but they just didn’t seem to have it, despite a nice victory over an underlooked Minnesota team on Thursday night at TCF Stadium.

He’s got weapons all around him, most notably Josh Doctson, and 246 passing on a day he rushed for 92 is far from underwhelming, but in real-time, I didn’t think he was anything special. That just tells me we haven’t seen anything yet from the offense. Based on what SMU was able to do to Baylor for 30 minutes on Friday, they might make for an interesting opponent for Gary Patterson’s defense, still a question mark for me after Minnesota had many opportunities Thursday.

Jerry Kill has a nice little team in Minnesota. They hung around the entire game, even if TCU did adjust better at the half. Rodney Smith seems like a good find; the freshman had 88 yards on 16 carries, but a lot of it that offensive line. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner needs to be more efficient or throw the ball less, but I don’t know how much less he can throw it, considering he was sacked 20 times a year ago.

That Ref Deserves a Hug

Sometimes, I just can’t get over how the universe can even itself out. Two years ago, going left to right across the Big Red “N” at midfield in Lincoln, a backup quarterback heaves up a prayer. You know the rest, Jordan Westerkamp is on the receiving end for the touchdown and the win against Nebraska. Redemption is spelled R-O-N (Kellog).

Fast forward to Saturday, BYU down 28-27, 1 tick on the clock for Tanner Magnum, on in relief of the injured Taysom Hill. Mitch Matthews hauls it in for the win, but #11 Terenn Houk is the star of this Vine.

https://vine.co/v/eTVKrzL5T0E

…and the rest.

These are all of the items that are too short for a capsule of their own.

  • Penn State, I’m glad you went to Philly to play Temple, but how did you lose that game?
  • Michigan, you can’t run the ball and don’t have a real answer at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh isn’t saving you right away.
  • Between the Cactus Bowl and Friday’s somewhat awkward return to Boise for Chris Petersen, I’ve now bailed on Washington at halftime in consecutive games, only to learn the second half was interesting, the next day. Show up in the first half, Huskies.
  • Nicely done, Josh Rosen.   What a performance for the true freshman; he came with a lot of hype, but lived up to it.  UCLA wasn’t playing an FCS school on Saturday, they were hosting a Power 5.  It was Virginia, but still.
  • Northern Illinois, that’s two years in a row that you’ve dominated UNLV, but let them hang around. A MAC rival will take advantage at some point, just watch.
    We’re so spoiled with digital options for viewing, that it was aggravating that CBS Sports didn’t have an option and I’m told didn’t regionally switch to the UNLV-NIU game in DeKalb, while overtime was played in Tulsa.
  • By the way, way to finish your win over Florida Atlantic, Tulsa.
  • So, Auburn is pretty good.  Louisville might be too, but not based on their play Saturday.  Either way, good to see Verne and Gary on CBS in Week 1. (They called Ohio State-Navy for CBS Sports Network to open the 2014 season)
  • Play-by-play announcers and color analysts, it’s okay to punt in College Football. Not every opponent is Oregon, and not every situation near or behind midfield equals four-down territory. Our game is about field position, and you win it by punting when appropriate.
  • Adults that paint their bodies and dedicate their lives to “me time” on camera for their favorite College Football team don’t deserve the air time.
  • I’d rather get neutral site games than no game at all, but there’s something about the games being played on campus. Steve Spurrier, that atmosphere sucked with all of the empty seats in Charlotte. Go to Chapel Hill or have Larry Fedora bring his team to Columbia, and stop trying to do too much.
  • Nice touchdown reception, Robert Nkemdiche.  We’ll talk more about the two-way play of the Ole Miss pass-rusher, when they play an FBS foe.

Lastly, I think I underestimated how cool Scott Van Pelt’s midnight Sportscenter would be, because I was mostly upset about losing his radio show on my mid-day drives. I’d planned on getting straight to my writing room when the game ended, but I stuck around. It’s a shame the technical stuff had to be difficult in Virginia, I really would have loved to see him interview Braxton Miller.

Back on Sunday to discuss Week 2…61 hours until Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky kickoff.

Pac-12 Notebook: Pac-12 Media Day Special

Media Days in college football. These are the times when coaches and the players they bring talk up their respective programs and talk about how much optimism there is around the team. Pac 12 media days are no different from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, or SEC media days in that respect, but now the Pac 12 is considered by many as the best conference out of the Power 5 Conferences. With that kind of talk there are lofty expectations in the Pac 12. What was said at the media days? Who impressed? What were my general thoughts about the coaches/players within the conference?

First of all, I’ll say it out loud. I would love to play for Sun Devil Head Coach Todd Graham. He speaks with such passion and conviction in how he runs his program. He has expectations for his staff, his players, and himself that he does not waver from. He has the swagger of, “Let’s go play and hit some people, and win the game” mentality that is obvious when you hear him talk. His players feed off of that and embrace that emotion. Here is just an example of that straight kind of talk from Todd Graham, “If you want to be the best, what are you doing to separate yourself?” He inspires and motivates his players to perform at their optimum level.

Next, Jim Mora, the Head Coach at UCLA is a man, much like Todd Graham who instills the discipline needed to be successful at the division one level. He has a quarterback issue brewing due to the exodus of Brett Hundley to the NFL. Does he go with Jerry Neuheisel who won that great game at Texas, or does he go with a freshman in Josh Rosen, or somebody else. He was very coy when asked. In the end, Rosen will be the starter I believe and they will deal with the growing pains as they go along.

Rich Rod, Arizona Head Coach, showed again that the competition between him and Washington State Head Coach, Mike Leach for most entertaining interview(s) is a tight race. Between Rich Rod calling out Leach for swimming in a speedo in a Lagoon in Mexico, and Leach calling out Rich Rod for being a person who goes to bed early, it was fun to watch these two tell stories about coaching and players throughout their career. Bottom line with Rich Rod and Arizona is that they are defending champs of the South Division and nobody should sleep on them. Rodriguez is building something special down in Tucson and people should start paying a little more attention to what he is doing. I know I am.

Optimism reigns supreme in Corvallis where the new leadership of Gary Andersen is becoming infectious. He’s talking up the program, trying to put excitement back in the program and certainly trying to put his stamp on the program. Coach Andersen is looking to put excitement back into a program that has lagged in the excitement category for a while now. He was coy about who would be playing quarterback for the Beavers, except to say “We will have a freshman playing quarterback.” However, when asked about what type of offense to expect at Reser Stadium. “I want to use the spread and move the ball quickly up and down the field, but I do want us to be able to slow the ball down when we have to.” Coach Anderson explained to reporters.

Shots fired Oregon fans. Courtesy of USC Head Coach Steve Sarkisian who decided to get under Oregon Duck fans thin skin by commenting about the Ducks and their many different uniform combinations, but no National Championships. Sark said, “We’re not taking the field in 13 different uniform in 13 different games this fall.” Oh, snap. What was the response? Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich told reporters that if the players need to use social media, newspapers quotes, or any other type of motivation to prepare for games then that is fine with him. I’m sure more shots will be fired between now and November when the two teams meet up at Autzen Stadium.

The Pac 12 season is looking to be a fantastic one. The conference has a division, in the South, that is loaded with teams that could all win the division and the North division is still looking at Oregon as the dominant team. Stanford won’t be far behind though. Let the games begin…

 

 

Team Discipline: You Either Have It or You Don’t

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Coaches hate losing and distractions the most. When those two things happen during the course of the season, and they do, it drives them crazy. Well, down in Tallahassee, Florida there seems to be daily distractions for Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. To say that this is not an issue would be to say that Pete Rose doesn’t gamble. What do coaches have to do to correct things like this?

The fights, domestic violence, drugs, or any other type of felonies that are broken are the result of bad decisions made by the player, not the coach, but what kind of responsibility do the coaches have? As a person who coaches young people, it all comes down to setting the ground rules and making them stick for everybody. Regardless of importance to the team. The third string offensive lineman gets the same consequence as the first team lineman. What brings down a teams chemistry quicker than most things is when the players see the difference in consequences between players on a team. This has to be something that coaches now have to adhere to at some point.

Jimbo Fisher is going to have to institute some type of team self monitoring where the upperclassmen keep the younger players from making some stupid mistakes. He may even have to have some of his coaches go out and monitor there player whereabouts on a Friday night. That may be a very tough thing to do because players are so mobile nowadays that finding any of them on any given night may prove fruitless.

However, these discipline problems are the players problems. When I see the Florida State quarterback in a bar and he is underage I think to myself, “Why?” Why does this person want to put themselves in a situation where they can lose their scholarship and really have no recourse or choice after that. Why do they want to punch a woman? What is inside them that says punching a woman is okay in ANY circumstance? Nobody knows except the player that perpetrates any kind of assault like that. I heard something the other day that has crossed through my mind a few times in my life when I’ve seen this kind of violence happen. A friend of mine said, “If the boss says ‘don’t go to the bar’ you don’t go to the bar.” I absolutely agree with that statement. These players/kids are over the age of 18 and that means adult consequences with whatever negative actions they decide on doing. By not following what the coach or boss says, you are saying to your coach and team that you are bigger than the team. Which is incorrect. If the coach found you to play for him, he can find another player just like you that won’t make stupid decisions and won’t cause him or the school any headaches.

In the end, these coaches need to start taking a hard line with these kids who think they are above the law or the team (Jameis Winston). When coaches like set tough ground rules down and actually follow them for every player regardless of talent they will see team chemistry is much better and that these distractions that they despise simply go away.

Some of the transgressions that are happening much more than it should are domestic violence, drug offenses, and theft.  Coaches have to put a line down in the sand about these players who commit domestic violence, drug offenses, or theft.  A coach finally said enough is enough and sent a player packing. In the past, I have mentioned Todd Graham, head coach of the Arizona State Sun Devils and his line in the sand mentality with his players.

Coach Graham is a man of principle, and he wants his players and staff to act accordingly with those principles that he lays down for his team. Graham wants his players to go to class, to act with class in public, and to be on time to practice and team meetings. Nothing that is considered crazy by any normal thinking person. Everybody has a boss that tells you what is expected of you on a daily basis at work. College and college football are the jobs of these football players and by adhering to Grahams rules, they are setting themselves up for success and in the end isn’t that what a coach and college is out there for these young men?

Let’s face it, most of these players on a college football squad are not going to hit it big at the next level, so they have to have some discipline instilled in themselves to help get through the rest of their lives. Coach Graham is instilling this train of thought in their brains now, so that they experience success in their lives.

Who doesn’t Todd Graham put up with? He doesn’t put with former ASU linebacker Davon Durant, who was dismissed from the Sun Devil team for his domestic violence and aggravated assault charge that he pled guilty to. Durant was rated as one of the top Junior College players when he came to Arizona State. He was rated the number 1 inside linebacker and the number 6 prospect overall in junior college. Now, he will be lucky if he gets ANYBODY to take him on their team. As I stated before, coaches hate distractions like kids hate broccoli. Granted he is talented, but at some point second chances won’t happen for players like this because they just won’t be worth the headache they bring to a football program.

“He’s done,” said Graham, “We parted ways. He put himself in that position. It’s a bad deal, but you got to have accountability. We just don’t talk about character and discipline. We live it.”

How refreshing is that? To me, it’s extremely refreshing in a time where players get slaps on the wrist and get chance after chance after chance. Those of us in the real world get fired if we did something like what Davon Durant did.

Kudos to Coach Graham for laying the law down and not wavering from his beliefs on how to run his football team. Hopefully more coaches catch on with this type of discipline and want less and less distraction for their program. Phenomenal job Coach Graham. Jimbo Fisher could learn a thing or two from you.

Power 5 Conference Scheduling: 8 or 9 Games?

What creates an advantage? What’s fair? How do you get everybody on the same page? All questions that need to be answered for college football because as of now, all Power 5 conferences are on a different conference game schedule. The Pac-12 and Big-12 play a nine-game conference schedule compared to the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten who play the eight-game conference slate. What can be done to change this?

First of all, this is not an easy change. Conferences have their reasons behind staying with the eight-game schedule or moving to a nine-game schedule. Whether or not they have an eight- or nine-game schedule, the end goal for any of the Power 5 is to end up in the playoff. The playoff committee has made it quite clear that they look at strength of schedule for a team as one of the big determining factors in putting teams into the playoff.  If strength of schedule is going to be a determining factor then why do some conferences still have the schedule that allows an extra game against a team that is at the lower division level? To me that is an easy question to answer… it’s another win to add to the record and one more thing to say to the playoff committee in terms of heightening their chances of getting into the playoff. However, let’s take a look what would be best for each of the Power 5 Conferences.

To be transparent, I am in favor of playing the nine-game schedule and having a championship game to determine who is the conference champion. Last thing you want to do is leave any doubt in the committee’s mind.

First up for examination is Pac-12. The Pac-12 is already operating under the nine-game format and has a championship game to determine their champion.  Once Utah and Colorado joined the conference, they had an even amount of teams (12) to form two equal divisions, it became easy for the Pac-12 to have the championship game. Once it became apparent that a playoff would be put into place Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott knew to help increase the chances of a team like Oregon or Arizona State to get into the playoff, they needed to have the nine-game schedule, so three years ago the Pac-12 went to the nine game schedule. By doing this, it forced the Pac-12 teams to realize that their out of conference schedule needed to improve, no more playing three straight weeks against “the little sisters of the poor” type of school. Does that mean every team is scheduling Florida State or Ohio State-type of teams for their non-conference? Of course not, but teams are scheduling teams from other Power 5 Conferences.

Next, the Big 12. This conference was left out of the 2015 playoff because, in my opinion, they didn’t have a championship game. TCU was ranked as high as third, but when Ohio State beat Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Horned Frogs were left out of the playoff and the Buckeyes were put in. This showed everybody that the Big 12 has to do something to improve their stature amongst the playoff committee. The Big 12 only has 10 teams, so when they decided to take away one of their non-conference games and go with the nine-game schedule it showed their willingness to make sure that they are in the conversation for the playoff. Even with their nine-game schedule, they still can improve their non-conference scheduling. Other conferences are scheduling games against schools from other Power 5 conferences and the Big 12 needs to do the same. By taking on other Power 5 schools, it will improve the competitive image of the Big 12 and so situations like last season may have a lesser chance of happening. If Oklahoma or Texas, two national brands, were in the same position as TCU last year with the playoff ranking, would they have been left out? Good question.

The Big 12 needs to ensure that their teams are tested during the season and with this nine game schedule in conference they can make that argument much better than if they were going with the eight game conference schedule. The nine-game schedule is the way to go for the Big 12 right now. Having 10 teams forces the conference into this type of schedule where they play everybody and lets them take away one of their patsy games in the non-conference scheduling. The conference needs to add a championship game at some point to help keep them in the playoff conversation and so that people can see who is the true champion of the Big 12.

The ACC is next. This is a conference that is sticking with their eight-game schedule, but with one caveat. They must schedule a non-conference game against a school that is in a Power 5 conference. With Notre Dame playing against five ACC teams, the conference is saying that if the ACC teams do play Notre Dame that will satisfy the Power 5 requirement, which to me is a bit misleading because technically the Irish are independent. The ACC was ready to go to the nine-game schedule, but this partial membership arrangement with the Notre Dame threw that thought into the oblivion. As much as I like the nine-game aspect for a conference, this is probably the best solution for the ACC since it needs to figure out what to do with their Notre Dame partnership. I believe the Irish either need to join the conference completely in football or exit the conference, so that the ACC can decide what to do with the eight- or nine-game schedule. I do like the requirement with the non-conference scheduling that they must play at least one team from another Power 5 conference, but the Notre Dame issue needs to be resolved.

Last, but certainly, not least the SEC. This is conference where the fans tend to be a little on the crazy side and are loyal almost to a fault.  They have recently said that they will stay with their eight game schedule, which means that they will have four games against subpar competition. These subpar teams will be like “lambs to the slaughter” in terms of how competitive they will be because all they are getting out of the game is a nice, fat paycheck.

I think the SEC needs play nine conference games because they have this belief that they are the best conference in college football. So why not prove it with one more game against a quality opponent? It remains to be seen if this playoff format will expose the SEC or continue to show their dominance. I’ll say it again: teams that want to be in the playoff should be battle tested and the more quality opponents you play, the more battle tested you are in my book. I think it’s time for them to step up to competition like Stanford Head Coach David Shaw has said. He didn’t mention the SEC by name, but he was talking about the SEC when he said that teams should not be scared in terms of playing each other.

The problem that the SEC has is that some of the teams in the West division have historic rivalry games against teams from the ACC. For example, Georgia/Georgia Tech, Florida/Florida State, South Carolina/Clemson, and Kentucky/Louisville all play each other and probably unwilling to give up those games. Right now, Nick Saban, Mark Richt, and Steve Spurrier are in favor of going to the nine game schedule. Spurrier has even said, “it could go to nine, whatever they say is fine with me.” That is the attitude that the coaches in the SEC should have. Instead of complaining about how tough a schedule is, work on legislating rules that make a level playing field for all. Here’s a thought for the conference. How about limiting the number of non-conference games with a non-Power 5 school to one game. Fans have been paying for sub-par non-conference games for far too long. If there are more quality opponents on the schedule for fans, there will be more fans in the seats and more excitement surrounding the school.

The Big Ten will play a eight-game conference schedule until 2016 when it will play nine conference games. Once again, going to the nine-game schedule is going to show fans, alumni, and the playoff committee that you are serious about having a team or teams in the playoff conversation that have shown their readiness and toughness in big game situations. One thing that I do like about what the Big Ten is considering is that they are talking about banning all non-conference games against FCS teams. Doing something like this will ensure that the conference will put forth the best teams possible.

The Big Ten is doing the right thing by going to nine games and possibly taking out all lower division opponents. They know that they have to fill stadiums, sell merchandise, and have a great fan experience for those people that choose to spend their money on college football. When there are more quality teams coming to play your school, more people will show up. Basic economics there. Nine-game schedules are preferable to me and probably most fans, alumni, and coaches. Unfortunately, we are not the ones to make that decision. There are other issues that go with changing to a nine game schedule.

Bottom line to the playoff committee is that they want the best four teams in the playoff. It is up to the conferences that are still going with the eight-game model to decide how battle tested they want their teams going into a playoff.