Tag Archives: Chris Peterson

Willie Taggart Will Have the Oregon Ducks Quacking All The Way To Levi’s Stadium

Oregon hired Willie Taggart to replace Mark Helfrich as head coach. Helfrich went 37-16 in Eugene. When his teams were good, they were really good having played in the 2014 national championship game. And when Helfrich’s teams were bad, they were bad. His final season was a 4-8 debacle. I wasn’t convinced that Helfrich should have been fired, but can’t fault athletic director Rob Mullens for making a bold decision.

The hiring of Taggart to replace Helfrich wasn’t a choice that blew me away. While I don’t believe Taggart will have long term success at Oregon, I do believe that his 2017 team will win the Pac-12 North. Call it the Muschamp Effect. Take over a program that has talent, win with it, and proceed to fall in a pit when the program is completely your own. That’s what I expect from Taggart. But for 2017, Taggart will look like a masterful hire.

Even with the dismissal of wide receiver Darren Carrington II, Oregon returns plenty of fire power on the offensive side of the ball. The Ducks return quarterback Justin Herbert, the top three rushers, one of the top two receivers, and, perhaps most importantly, five offensive linemen. Oregon will also play a schedule that will test them early. I like the Ducks’ nonconference games against Nebraska and on the road at Wyoming more than Washington’s trip to Rutgers or games against Montana, and Fresno State. Granted Oregon has to actually win those games.

Defensively, things couldn’t be much worse than they were last year. Now departed defensive coordinator Brady Hoke was replaced with Jim Leavitt. While Hoke’s Oregon defense ranked 119th in the nation, Leavitt’s Colorado defensive unit ranked 12th in the country. And the defense that Leavitt inherited at Colorado had ranked 109th in the country prior to Leavitt taking over.

Taggart will be the beneficiary of being at the right place at the right time when it comes to the offense that he will have at Oregon. Defensively he should get all of the credit for prying Leavitt away from Colorado. And Oregon should feel secure with Leavitt provided that Kansas State’s Bill Snyder doesn’t finally decide to retire.

Washington is the trendy pick to win the Pac-12 North. It’s a pick that makes sense. And because it makes sense, it’s also the easy pick. The Huskies have one of the more underrated head coaches in Chris Peterson, have what many consider to be an easy schedule, and return quarterback Jake Browning to go along with a plethora of returning talent on the offensive side of the ball.

While Oregon welcomes Leavitt to Eugene, Washington has a top tier defensive coordinator of its own in Pete Kwiatkowski. The Husky defense gave up a league low 248 points in 2016 conference play. This was due in large part to extraordinary secondary play from Budda Baker, Kevin King, and Sidney Jones. That secondary trio were all selected in the NFL draft.

Crazy stuff seems to happen every year in the Pac-12. Pac-12 After Dark is a real thing. With a sketchy schedule to go along with a revamped secondary, it’s tough for me to be confident in picking Washington to withstand the rigors of the Pac-12 After Dark. I do, however, expect Oregon to be flying high after I’m fast asleep.

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E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Washington Huskies Look for the Upset Against the Stanford Cardinal

As college football fans turn the corner into October, we start getting into match-ups that will determine division titles. The Washington Huskies and the Stanford Cardinal will battle each other on Friday night to gain an advantage in the Pac-12 North division.

The Washington Huskies are the team on the rise. It’s been a long time since the Dawgs have been even remotely relevant. Washington will have the opportunity to make a statement against the team that is the current big dog in the conference.

The Huskies have a lot going for them. The Huskies have a quarterback that one could argue is the best in the conference,  have running backs that can break off a big play at any moment, and have a physical defense that can also make plays.

Jake Browning, Husky quarterback, is one of those dual-threat quarterbacks that makes life miserable for defensive coordinators. He has led the Huskies to perfect start so far and was instrumental in the Huskies overtime win last week against Arizona.

However, Browning has his first big test of the season with Stanford. The Cardinal defense will certainly try and go the physical route with trying to contain Browning. The Cardinal have to make sure Browning doesn’t get out and extend plays. If Jake Browning is able to extend plays and make big plays it will be a long night in Seattle for Stanford.

Not only do the Cardinal have concerns with Browning, Stanford doesn’t have either starting cornerbacks. Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder went down against UCLA last weekend. That plays right into the hands of the Husky offense. The receivers are fast and having new cornerbacks on the perimeter will be something to watch as the game progresses.

The offensive line for Washington has to hold strong on enough plays so the Huskies can make plays down the field with Jake Browning’s accurate arm. In my opinion, the offensive line of Washington will be the key to victory for the Huskies.

Husky Stadium will be loud and rocking. I’ve been there for games and it is one of the loudest stadiums in the country. You can’t underestimate the effect that a loud crowd can have on an opposing team. Stanford is experienced in playing in big games, but having a new quarterback in this type of situation can be an adventure.

Myles Gaskin, the ultra-quick running back for the Huskies, has not gotten off to the start that he had hoped for. Gaskin is listed as the starter and certainly could make this game his 2016 coming out party. However, look for running back Lavon Coleman to get some more touches. Coleman came into the game last week against Arizona and ran for 188 yards. Having a combination like these two could prove deadly against a weakened Stanford defense. I look for the Huskies to try and exploit this advantage when the Washington offense is on the field.

Defensively for the Huskies, the goal will be to hold Christian McCaffrey in check. I know, easier said than done. Look for head coach Chris Peterson to try and make some adjustments in the kicking game. Peterson will want to limit McCaffrey to as little return yards as possible. I would kick at angles to make the sideline an extra defender. We all know all dangerous Christian McCaffrey is when he is on the field, so controlling him is a must. The Huskies have to limit McCaffrey to 150 all-purpose yards to be in the game. With the speed the Huskies have, this is a possibility.

When it’s all said and done at Husky Stadium, I believe this will be the first big upset in the Pac-12 this year. The Dawgs will come out on top in a tight game. Huskies win 35-24.

Email Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @pigskinopinion.

Image: Courtesy of Mike Wilson

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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Pac-12 Links: Players to Watch for in 2016

Every season there are a handful of players to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 and this year is no different. The following list is of players that I believe will have a great impact on how their particular team does during the 2016 season. The difference between teams winning and losing will be directly related to how these particular players perform during the season, so let’s take a look.

Royce Freeman

The Rolls Royce for the Oregon Ducks has certainly made his impression upon the Pac-12 Conference in his short career, but can he handle the load of the offense until Dakota Prukop feels like he has control of things with the fast-break Oregon offense?

Freeman is a freight train out of the backfield at 5’11”, 230lbs and is one of those running backs that loves contact. He does not run out of bounds, he lowers his shoulder to get those extra tough yards. During the past two seasons he has run for 3,201 yards on 535 carries and it begs the question what he can do to improve upon those gaudy stats?

“I don’t know, rush for 2,000 yards, score 30 touchdowns. He’s more seasoned. We expect big things from him.” Said Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell.

Freeman is trying to keep himself out of the limelight, but that will be virtually impossible to do based on his past success. Freeman is one of those players that I would certainly pay to see live because of the way he plays the game. He’s a team player and more worried about getting the win than getting personal statistics.

In a game with Arizona State last season, he only had 15 carries and finished with 112 yards rushing, but it was attitude after the triple overtime win that tells you all you need to know about him.

“I was just more focused on pass protection and things like that. It’s cool. We have other people that can go out and make plays.” Said Freeman after the Sun Devil game.

Keep your eye on this player, he deserves some of the Heisman talk that he is getting and his approach to the game says more about him as a player than his actual stats do.

Daryl Garretson

The Oregon State Beavers are looking to pick themselves up off the mat after a dismal two-win season in 2015. Last season the Beavers had a young, athletic, inexperienced quarterback at the helm.

This year?

They have Daryl Garretson, a junior transfer student from Utah State who takes over the Oregon State offense. The offense will look pretty familiar to him since he played for Beaver offensive coordinator, Kevin McGiven, at Utah State.

What does Garretson bring to the table?

He will bring a starter’s mentality to the huddle for the Beavers. By this I mean, he knows the offense, can check out of a play and get to a better one, he has confidence because he has started in college before, and he brings a certain amount of swag to the team that was lacking last season.

Now, this doesn’t mean the Beavers are winning the Pac-12 North or anything, but this does mean that they should be in more games in 2016 than they ever were in 2015. Watch for Garretson to bring a more competitive vibe to the Beavers and hopefully that translates to more wins for Oregon State.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a player that people forget about in the Pac-12 because of recent injuries, but he can change the fortunes of the Arizona Wildcats.

Wilson has rushed 2,100 yards on 369 carries so far in his short career at Arizona. In his freshman year he took the Pac-12 by storm, rushing for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns. Last season he was slowed down by the injury bug and only managed 725 yards.

Unfortunately for Nick Wilson he has gained the reputation of a player that is not all that durable. Whether that is a fair label or not is up for discussion with many people. It’s something that will dog Wilson until he shows he can stay healthy for entire season or more.

How will the coaching staff use Wilson this year? That is the million dollar question.

If you take a look at his first two years you will see the coaching staff did over-use Wilson in terms of how much of the offense he was responsible for from the running back position.

During his freshman year, he was carrying the ball approximately 64% of the time which is not too crazy considering he is the number one running back for the Wildcats. However, when you look a little deeper you will see that in the final six games, Wilson’s usage as a running back jumped up to 84%. That is over-using a good running back and that is putting too much mileage on young legs.

If he was an Alabama running back, this would be about normal for how Coach Saban abuses his running backs, but to keep a running back healthy and viable in the Pac-12 you can’t do that.

If Wilson stays healthy, and the coaching staff figures out how to use him so they maximize his talent, then the Wildcats can have a more successful season in 2016.

Jake Browning

Jake who? That is what many of you are thinking I am sure, but keep this name in your head. Jake Browning is a talented young quarterback who has Washington Husky fans thinking big things in 2016.

The fans may be thinking big, but it’s what head coach Chris Peterson saw during the spring practices that has him thinking positive thoughts about Browning.

I think Jake has done a nice job of taking the next step. I think he has improved, it’s all subtle stuff. It’s his pocket presence, it’s his stride-point accuracy, the ball coming out a little quicker.” Peterson said in an interview with a Seattle radio station.

As a true freshman in 2015 Browning came on the scene and ended up with 2,995 yards passing, 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and led the Huskies to a victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Southern Mississippi.

Browning brings a tough attitude to the huddle, mobility, and an arm that threatens the secondary of just about any team. That tough, perfectionist attitude of his has certainly been seen by his teammates.

“The guy hates losing. The only thing on his mind is winning.” Said Coleman Shelton, an offensive lineman for Washington.

Jake Browning is a player who wants to improve every year and when he doesn’t live up to his expectations he takes it very personally. In a game against Arizona State last season, the Huskies totally collapsed and gave the Sun Devils a win. More importantly, it was Browning who gave the win away to Arizona State with three fourth-quarter interceptions. Browning gave a simple response to all the questions being asked of him in the post-game press conference.

“I gotta improve.” Browning said after the Sun Devil game.

When the 2016 season gets rolling for the Huskies look for Browning to put the team on his back and put the improvements he has made during the spring together to help the Huskies make a run at the Pac-12 North title. Watch out Oregon, the Huskies may have just turned the corner and they are setting their eyes on you.

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

Image: Creative Commons

Pac-12 Links: Ducks, Beavers, Huskies, and Cougars

In this dead time of year for college football programs, the season seems like a distant thought, but as we all know, the season will get here in a blink of an eye. When I take a look at the landscape of the Pac-12 it is apparent to me that there are some anxious fan bases around the conference. Many of those teams are in the Pac-12 North division. Let’s take a look at what I am talking about.

Oregon

Is the Duck run of dominance done? Can the coaching staff develop a quarterback for the long-term?

These are both legitimate questions fans have for their beloved Ducks. Ever since Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota left for the NFL, the Ducks have not come up with a long-term quarterback. When Mariota left I figured the Ducks would turn the keys to the Porsche over to Jeff Lockie who was Mariota’s backup. That was a bad idea. Lockie played like a kid who had never picked up a football. Vernon Adams transferred in from Eastern Washington and played admirably for Oregon, but he was only going to play for a year as a graduate transfer. What now?

Welcome Dakota Prukop to Eugene.

Prukop comes to the Ducks from Montana State as a graduate transfer player. What, another graduate transfer? The transfer thing for many fans is something they like as long as the player plays up to their expectations. This is not a long-term aspect of the Duck program that the fans enjoy much, but they have remained fairly silent on it.

After the spring game for Oregon was in the books last week, it was pretty obvious to observers that the quarterback race is down to two players. One is, obviously, Dakota Prukop, and the other is redshirt freshman Travis Jonsen. According to offensive coordinator Matt Lubick the race is still up in the air.

“Going into fall camp, right now I like both guys.” Lubick stated after the spring game.

I don’t buy that. You don’t bring a guy in as a graduate transfer and have him sit. I thought the same thing with Vernon Adams. All the coach speak going on last season about an open competition is same the coach speak going on now.

The development of the back-up quarterback will be crucial for the program as a whole. The program has to think past the present time and look toward 2017 and the long-term health of the Oregon program.

Oregon State

As much as the Duck program is thriving with plenty of difference makers, the Oregon State program is the antithesis. Beaver believers don’t know what to expect in 2016 because the team is so young and has a new quarterback and defensive coordinator. How will head coach Gary Andersen  get the program going in an upward swing?

Darrell Garretson, the transfer quarterback from Utah State who has two seasons remaining, will be the signal caller for Oregon State. Not until the spring game did the Beaver coaches know who they may name the starter. Garretson had a phenomenal spring game by throwing for 263 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Remember fans, it’s the spring game, not a USC defense coming at him.

What Garretson gives the Beavers is some mobility in the pocket and that means he will be either extending plays, or simply running for his life. Hopefully it’s not the latter. The aspects that fans should like about Garretson are that he has real game experience and that he is also playing for his old coach, Kevin McGiven, now the co-offensive coordinator for Oregon State. He knows the offense, so it should be a smoother transition than it would be for any other player coming into this offense.

New defensive coordinator Kevin Clune has his work cut out for him. Many spots are up for grabs on the defensive side of the ball with many key ingredients gone from last year’s team. Clune is going to have to get something done because Oregon State struggled mightily last season.

The Beaves ranked last in the conference in scoring defense, giving up 37 points a game. They also gave up a conference-leading 481 yards per game. To top it all off, they were also last in rushing defense, giving up 225 yards a game.

Work needs to be done in Corvallis to have any shot at a better season than 2015, but the Beavers can’t be all that much worse than they were last season.

Will Coach Andersen be able to work some miracle this season? Time will tell.

Washington

You don’t hear much talk coming out of Husky Nation these days and that is exactly how head coach Chris Peterson wants it. In fact, whenever Coach Peterson is talking about his program, he is underselling his team to the public. One possible reason for this is that he has a team that could be on the verge of a breakthrough type of season. Peterson is trying to pump the breaks on that thought and take a more realistic look at the 2016 season.

The Washington fans see a dominating defense, a quarterback who broke onto the scene in a big way, and a legit breakout running back all coming back in the fall. The word “optimism” is being whispered up in the trees of Seattle, but like I said, Coach Peterson is doing everything to squash that talk.

Jake Browning, the sophomore quarterback, who came to the Huskies as a true freshman and had a solid season, is looking to improve his deep ball for the Huskies. He doesn’t have a cannon attached to his arm, so to improve the deep ball you need to have better protection from his o-linemen and better timing with his receivers. That’s the way the deep ball gets better. So, for Husky fans, improving on the offensive line and with his receivers will be of upmost importance to threaten defenses down the field.

For the sake of Husky fans, let’s hope that Jake Browning continues his great play in the Pac-12. Seeing the Huskies challenge in the conference would be a great sight to see again.

Washington State

Mike Leach finally has higher expectations placed on him at Washington State after a good season in 2015. He has one of the top two quarterbacks in the entire Pac-12 Conference.

Luke Falk is the guy under center for the Cougars and in control of the Air Raid offense for Washington State. Falk has gained some notoriety because the Cougars won last season and because he put up video game type of numbers. What does this young gun want to work on this offseason? He says it’s about making the more consistent play, finding the open man, his footwork, and getting better every single day at practice.

“Really just doing my job the best that I can do it. Going through my reads, being more efficient on my reads; finding the open guy; footwork-there is a lot I can improve on and work on this summer.” Luke Falk said recently.

Mike Leach, who was rumored to be on the hot seat going into last season, earned a bit of a reprieve thanks to a successful 2015 campaign. However, he knows he can’t rest on his success. All it takes is another bad season and the heat gets turned right back up for him.

Leach needs to keep this Air Raid offense going in upward motion, so he can recruit some more talent out to Washington State. From my perspective this is a critical year for Leach and his football program. Take a step backward, he could be fired. Keep the positive motion going and he gets a contract extension and better talent.

Washington State will be an interesting team to keep an eye on in the Pac-12 this season.

Image: Creative Commons

Pac-12 Links: What’s Happening in the Pac-12

Being a fan and writer of Pac-12 football there are so many things that are happening on a daily basis that it is beneficial to keep you, the fans, informed on what is happening around the Conference of Champions. Here you go Pac-12 fans….

Down in Tucson… Samajie Grant is looking to take a great leadership role.

At Arizona State, they are looking for a bounce back year in 2016. Can they figure out the quarterback situation and how will the new OC do in his first season at a Power 5 school?

California has to replace Jared Goff. What does this mean for the offense?

Can out Colorado finally break out of the basement of the Pac-12 South in 2016? The talent is better than it has been, but…

Is Dakota Prukop the real deal for Ducks? Will he have a more productive year than Vernon Adams? The Duck fans are just happy he is already on campus.

In Corvallis, hope springs eternal for the Beavers as they look to improve upon Gary Andersen’s initial season with Oregon State.

Christian McCaffrey has Stanford poised for another run at the conference title and Rose Bowl. Can they make a deeper run into the CFB Playoff?

At UCLA, sophomore quarterback, Josh Rosen returns to lead the Bruin attack. Does he have anybody to help him out? Can the offensive line protect him?

Coaching changes, new quarterback, and same old USC football expectations. Do the Trojans live up to them or is it a rebuild year at USC?

Kyle Whittingham doesn’t want to look at this season as a rebuild. He did lose some good offensive firepower at running back, but there is optimism at Utah.

Washington is one of the Pac-12 teams with a returning starting quarterback. Good for Huskies right? Does Chris Peterson finally have the Dawgs going in the right direction?

Mike Leach is coming off his best season as the Cougars head coach. What does he have as an encore for Cougar fans in 2016? Hopefully something similar for them as well as himself.

All Pac-12 teams are in the middle of their spring football practices, so any injuries that happen could obviously change the fortunes of any of these teams. The Pac-12 has many questions going into 2016, quarterback is one of the big ones. Can they get a team back into the college football playoff? It’s only spring time, so time will only tell the story for the Pac-12.

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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.

Pac-12 Notebook: Three Quarterbacks will get us to the Playoff, Right?

USC Trojans: Something is happening in Los Angeles? What? Oh, yeah, it’s the land of Hollywood and drama, so why would any drama happening at one of this country’s preeminent schools be any different for the SoCal? The Trojans were considered at one point to be the professional in L.A., they still might be, but they are increasingly being thought of as the “soap opera” in the area.

We’ve all heard by now the story of Head Coach Steve Sarkisian being extremely intoxicated at a USC booster/alumni event. Sark was using f-bombs, mf-bombs, and any other expletive when talking to alumni, players, parents and on an open microphone. Pat Haden, USC Athletic Director became obviously irate and took his football coach behind closed doors and put down the law with him, or did he? Should he be suspended? If this was a player, what do you think happens? I let you soak your brain on that.

It’s come to light through media reports and even Coach Sarkisian that he was not only drinking, but also had prescription pills mixed in with his drinking. Never a good mix in anybody’s book and most people would agree that what happened was over the line and not acceptable. Does it mean he has a drinking problem? Not at all, but it will raise questions with many people about whether he does or not. As of today, there are plenty of meme’s out there referencing the issue with Sarkisian, but some of the media is piling on a bit. A report of the coach’s bill that was pretty high as a total bill has been shown to the public with the report saying something to effect of “Sarkisian with a high alcohol bill at a coach’s retreat.” Piling on at its best. Sark wasn’t the only one drinking, but with what has happened, he’s the only one drinking to many people.

Coaches hate distraction in any form. This distraction was self-induced by the coach, so he has nobody to blame, but himself. Can the Trojans circle the wagons and not let it ruin what seems to be a potentially good season? I am hoping that they can because when the Trojans are relevant in college football, it’s good for college football.

Washington Huskies: With all the air being sucked out of the room in Los Angeles, the Washington Huskies have been trying to figure out things that actually have to do with the field of play. Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith and the rest of the staff have yet to figure out who will be the starting quarterback for the 2015 season. The Huskies have three quarterbacks preparing for the season. Head Coach Chris Peterson has told his three quarterbacks to prepare like they will be starting week one. Junior Jeff Lindquist, redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels and true freshman Jake Browning are all vying for the starting job, but Coach Peterson has said that he may not announce a starter before the September 4 opener with Boise State.

A three quarterback system? Peterson knows better, so does his OC, Jonathan Smith (former Beaver quarterback) that a system like that will not work at this level. Name the starter, let him build some continuity with the starting offense and go from there. If the starter can’t be the leader that the coaches want then bring in the “other” guy to give them a shot. I don’t know exactly what they should be doing, but I do know that having a rotating system of quarterbacks is not what the Huskies need. The question that sticks out there with these three quarterbacks is this, why can’t their junior quarterback Jeff Lindquist separate himself from two freshmen quarterbacks? Doesn’t make Lindquist appear to be that great. Maybe I’m wrong with this, maybe I’m right, but if a junior can’t distance himself from his younger competition that says something about him.

Arizona State: After the dust up with the recent dismissal of true freshman linebacker George Lea things have quieted down for the Sun Devil program. Running a major college division one program can seem like a rollercoaster ride much of the time, but it’s something that comes with the job. In this past week, Todd Graham has had to deal with a distraction that has come from his own family. His son, Bo Graham, and probable heir apparent to being the OC at Arizona State resigned his position effective immediately. No reason, other than “personal reasons” was officially given. We now know that his reason was very “personal”.

The story has blown up around Valley of The Sun because of tweets from former Sun Devil quarterback Rudy Carpenter insinuating that Bo Graham may have had a personal relationship with somebody associated with the ASU and their athletic program.

His father, Todd Graham has said that he left for an “exciting opportunity”. That exciting opportunity is the unemployment line.

Here is what happened with Bo Graham. Most people here in the Phoenix area suspected that he may have had romantic relationship with an Arizona State athlete. It turns out, that he did have a romantic relationship with an athlete. That is prohibited by ASU and the reason why Bo is gone. There were rumors of this type of behavior at Pittsburgh and Tulsa as well. Those were previous coaching stops for his father.

Bo didn’t know in this case and he should have known better. With these type of rumors out there it was incredibly stupid of Bo Graham to even consider doing something like this, especially if he knew that ASU had rules governing this type of behavior with other athletes. Bo had a great thing going with coaching for the Sun Devils and may have been the OC when Mike Norvell moves onto a head coaching position.

Now that we know why the resignation happened so quickly one thing is for certain, it left a hole in the coaching staff less than two weeks before the start of the season, but in typical Coach Graham style, he promoted Josh Martin to assistant coach to coach tight ends and H-backs. Graham is going to do everything and anything to not let this derail him from getting his team ready for Texas A&M. That might be easier said than done because of the timing of this controversy. If this was something that happened after the season nobody would have cared. Now that it’s so close to the opener it’s a distraction for Todd Graham and something he doesn’t need.

What Happens in the Pac-12 North in 2015?

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Predictions can be a tricky thing. Half the time you’re right, half the time you’re wrong. When you get it right, people don’t care and when you get it wrong, let’s just say people notice in a big way. Fans don’t want to admit that you got it right, they only want to admit when THEY got it right. Seeing that it is the end of April and fall camp is about another 125 days out, I figured, now is better than any time to throw a prediction out there. My prediction will deal with the Pac-12 North division.

Six teams comprise the Pac-12 North. You have Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon, California, and Stanford. This is a division that has been pretty much dominated by two teams. Oregon and Stanford, with Oregon garnering most of the accolades and press. This year may be just a little different in the division.

I will put the teams in reverse order of how I think the division will work out. Starting at the bottom, I still think Washington State will be bringing up the rear of the division. They haven’t proved to me or anybody yet that they will make “the turn” towards being competitive. The one thing that they do have, is a returning quarterback, in Luke Falk. but in terms of anything else, it is anybody’s guess as to how Mike Leach gets this program moving in an upward direction. Falk is going to have to have his skill players have big games to get wins, but the one area where they may show some game is on the defensive side of the ball. The Cougs have people coming back defensively, so if they can keep people from putting up big points and the offense be better than advertised, then I’ll be wrong with this prediction, but for right now, they are just an unknown to me with very little sample size.

Oregon State is next. Even though I root for my school, I’m a realist when it comes to them. New coach, new schemes, new philosophy, a new, young quarterback, and replacing nine guys on the defensive side of the ball could spell trouble in Corvallis in 2015. Replacing the all-time Pac-12 passing leader will be no small task. Sean Mannion will be missed, especially his leadership that he brought to the offense. Coach Anderson has three freshmen quarterbacks battling it out for the starting job. Seth Collins, Nick Mitchell, and Marcus McMaryion are the new guys under center. I think Seth Collins wins the job in the end, but as of right now, it is anybody’s guess. Replacing nine guys on defense will be a huge task as well. At some point in the Pac-12 you have to stop somebody from scoring to have any chance or you just might get 80 points dropped on you. It’s going to be a year of transition for the Beavers. Do I want better than this spot in the North? Of course, but I need to be realistic about the Beavers too. This is where I think they will fall.

Washington comes next. Washington is an enigma to me. I want them to do well, but every time I believe that they could be turning the corner, they don’t live up to the expectations that I have. They lost some talent, Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton to name a couple. Both will be NFL draft picks in the coming week. Even though they have lost two great defensive starters, defense will be the stronger side of the ball for the Dawgs. Quarterback will be the position where the most uncertainty lies. Even after the Spring Game, Head Coach Chris Peterson still doesn’t know who the leading candidate will be. Junior quarterback Jeff Lindquist has shown some improvement, but has not separated himself from the other two QB’s vying for the starting job. Jake Browning and K.J. Carta-Samuels had moments in the spring game, but like Lindquist, did not show beyond a shadow of a doubt that they belong in the starters role. Finally, the biggest part of the Husky program that I have questions about is Coach Peterson. Now, he’s only been on the job about 18 months, but I still have questions about whether he can coach on the Pac-12 level. Yes, he had tremendous success at Boise State, but he wasn’t facing the greatest competition week in and week out like he is the Pac-12. The jury is still out on him for me. Hopefully, he proves me wrong.

California is next for me. I think what Sonny Dykes is doing up in Berkley is exciting. He has a pretty good quarterback in Jared Goff and talent at the skill positions to help Goff out. He is certainly trying to run his offense at fast break speed. The school may be doing some pushing for Goff to be a Heisman candidate. That may be a bit of a stretch for me, but he is certainly talented. Luke Rubenzer is making the switch to the defensive side of the ball, so there won’t be a rotating quarterback issue like there was last year. Rotating quarterbacks probably is one of the worst decisions that a coach can make, so by taking that issue away, the quarterback can stay in the rhythm that he gets in and doesn’t have to look over his shoulder every time he does something wrong. With a good home schedule, the Bears should be able to make the jump to be bowl eligible this year. The Bears get Grambling State, San Diego State, Oregon State, Washington State, USC (tough), and a tough game with the Sun Devils at home. They could win all these games at home, and they are going to have to. The road games are pretty tough. Road games include Stanford, Oregon, Utah, and UCLA. That’s a pretty tough sled right there. The one game on the road that they may be favored in will be their game with the Washington Huskies and that may decide whether or not they become bowl eligible or at home watching the bowl season again. I have them ranked ahead of Washington because they have a more settled quarterback situation. Of course, this could all blow up in my face, but for now, I see Cal finishing ahead of Washington.

Oregon comes in second in the division. Granted, they do have some talent coming back, but they did lost their Heisman Trophy leader in Marcus Mariota and that can be overstated enough. The Ducks will pick up the quarterback from Eastern Washington, Vernon Adams during the summer once he graduates from Eastern Washington. Jeff Lockie was the one seen as the successor to Mariota and he’s played well during the spring practices and the spring game, but he won’t THE guy once Adams arrives on campus in Eugene. As good as Vernon Adams was at Eastern Washington, that still was at a lower competition level then the Pac-12 level. We don’t know what the Ducks really have with Adams an whether or not he will be as good as advertised at this Division one level. He will have great skill guys behind him to help him out, but you still have to get used to each other and that may take a bit to happen. The one thing that is an understated loss is the loss of all-everything center Hroniss Grasu. Having a great leader on the O-Line is something that every coach wants and Grasu was THAT guy. It’ll be a year of transition for the Ducks, but there is also enough talent on the team to make the transition not as severe as it would be for other teams.

Stanford. The Cardinal will finish first in the division. They have their veteran quarterback Kevin Hogan, in the fold on The Farm, plus they return all the young talent that they had last season. One of those returning guys is Christian McCaffrey who provided a big spark to the offense last season. He’s one of those players that makes you take notice of him as well. He runs hard, he’s disciplined, and comes to play every Saturday. The other player that will help contribute is Barry Sanders, no, not that one, but his son. He’ll be a senior, he knows his role and has shed weight and will provide senior leadership for the Cardinal this fall. The one area that made me waver a little bit between the Ducks and the Cardinal is special teams. The Cardinal missed a lot of field goals last season, and that aspect of the team needs to get better, so they can win some of those close games. In the end, I still think the Cardinal have enough to win the division. Is it going to be enough to win the Conference? That’s a question for another day.

At the end of November, early December this should come down to a two horse race in Stanford and Oregon, with Stanford coming out on top. Whoever comes out of the North division is going to have their hands full with the South division winner. Here’s to a crazy race in the North in 2015.