Tag Archives: Juju Smith-Schuster

Pac-12 Teams Have Something to Prove in Week Two

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

Arizona State

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

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

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

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

California

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

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

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

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

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

USC

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

You saw what happened.

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

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

Is Clay Helton the guy?

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

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

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

Washington State

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

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

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

Head coach Mike Leach was frustrated with the defense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Courtesy of Mike Wilson

Pac-12 Links: South Division Questions for the Summer

The Pac-12 South division is widely considered one of the toughest in the country. It has had some pretty good teams in the past couple of seasons, but are there any real great teams in this division? Not as far as I can see. The South division does have three returning quarterbacks to help their teams possibly get to the Pac-12 Championship Game, but not the College Football Playoff. Even after spring practice there are lingering questions about teams in the Pac-12 South. Let’s take a look at what some of those questions might be.

Arizona

Down in Tucson, can Rich Rodriguez have an offensive line that will be able to keep Anu Solomon healthy and off of his back? Will Solomon be able to develop into a Marcus Mariota type of quarterback that he was thought to be a couple seasons ago? Right now, Anu Solomon’s only concern should be learning to stay away from the injury bug. Whether it’s been knee/leg injuries or concussions, Solomon has to keep himself in the lineup or the season will be a tough road for the Wildcats.

Defense wins championships, right? Well, for the Wildcats, the defense is getting a major overhaul this upcoming season. New DC Marcel Yates is rearranging the defense for the Wildcats. He ran a 4-2-5 defense at Boise State and has head coach Rich Rodriguez willing to stray from his 3-3-5 defense. What will we see during the season?  The Wildcats only had two practices that were open to media, so for right now you have to think that it’ll be some hybrid between the two defenses.

Arizona has to improve its protection so that Anu Solomon and running back Nick Wilson can stay healthy. In my opinion, Wilson is the player to watch for the Wildcats. Keep your eye on him.

Utah

When you lose Devontae Booker and Travis Wilson in the same year, things may not be looking good for your team. Last year Utah was my sleeper pick to win the division and get to the conference championship game. It was looking good until the injury bug hit the team, especially stud running back Devontae Booker. Once he went down, the season went with him.

Replacing Travis Wilson will be something the Utes have to do. Do the Utes know who the new quarterback will be? That is something that is still up in the air in Salt Lake. Head coach Kyle Whittingham has stated that the quarterback race is still a “dead heat”.

One of the interesting facts about this race is that one of the big contenders for the job, junior transfer Troy Williams, was held out of spring practices and the spring game for an injury. In the meantime, junior Brandon Cox and freshman Tyler Huntley were getting all the reps, but couldn’t separate themselves to take the quarterback job.

Replacing Devontae Booker won’t be as complicated because they already had a player in waiting to be the main back. His name Joe Williams. When Booker went down with a season ending knee injury Williams was there to take over.

“It was sad when Devontae went down. It just made me the next man up and I just did what I had to do.” Williams said during spring practice.

Let’s hope he keeps that next man up mentality because the Utes need him to be the next man for them.

Colorado

What can be said with the Colorado football program? We all know the narrative about how the program has not had any success since joining the Pac-12 Conference. Is this the year they have some sort of breakthrough?

The thought process coming out of Boulder is that this is the year for the Buffaloes. Am I going to drink that Koo-Aid? Not until they show me that they can get it done. For me, getting it done is simply getting to the six-win level, so they can potentially get to a lower-tier bowl.

What will determine the Buffs success in 2016?

One of the items that will is the play of starting quarterback Sefo Liufau and if he can come back from his injury. Liufau has a lisfranc injury which is an injury to his foot, always a difficult thing for any athlete to come back from. As good fortune would have it, he was seen up and throwing on the sidelines during the Colorado spring game.

Not having an experienced quarterback on your team can be a recipe for disaster. Colorado absolutely needs its starter to be ready to go by the season opener.

USC

Clay Helton is looking for his team to be drama-free in 2016. Good luck with that Coach Helton. You are in control of one of the premier college football programs in this country and the program is centered in the entertainment capital of the world. Good luck.

With that said, there will always be some sort of drama surrounding any football program and USC is no different, but there are different types of drama. I’m sure Helton is referring to drama that is on the level of what they have had with Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian. That kind of drama is something I would not wish on any coach.

So far, the only drama that is coming out of USC is who they will have to replace Cody Kessler who has to spend his rookie year in the NFL in Cleveland.

What are the options for Coach Helton and his staff?

For now, the option is Max Browne, who getting the opportunity in his junior year after sitting behind Cody Kessler since he arrived on campus as National Player of the Year in high school. He may have all the talent in the world, but he still has not taken a snap in a meaningful game. His meaningful game is coming soon for him. He will be taking the snaps as the Trojans open up against national champion Alabama.

Nothing like being thrown to the wolves right out of the gate.

Having JuJu Smith-Schuster on the outside will help Browne. JuJu is arguably the best receiver in the country heading into 2016 and if he can produce at the level he has then he will take a bunch of pressure off of his quarterback. The connection between Max Browne and JuJu will be something to watch as the season gets going.

The question on the defensive line will be something that people will be concentrating on as we get closer to the Alabama game. New defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast has to figure out how his D-line will get pressure on its opponents. Otherwise, he will find himself in the unemployment line. Doing that will be tough considering what he has to work with at USC.

The defensive line is extremely inexperienced this year with no returning starters and the only player that was penciled in as a starter, Kenny Bigelow, went down with a season-ending knee injury during spring practice, so that further complicates things for Pendergast.

Does USC overcome this youth movement and the toughest schedule in the country to make 2016 a winning season? Time will tell, but my feeling is that if the Trojans get to eight wins that would be considered a victory unto itself.

Image: Creative Commons

My 2017 “Big Board”

Now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete, it’s time to start talking about the 2017 draft.  It’s like Christmas, every year people start getting in the holiday spirit earlier than the year before.  Well, this year we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

We don’t know which NFL teams will be drafting at the top.  We don’t know which college players will stand out in the fall.  Still, that shouldn’t stop us from having some fun.  Let’s look at some possible 2017 draftees before the 2016 rookie contracts are finalized.

Disclaimer: I’m totally playing favorites here.  This is not meant to be a serious, analytical piece examining which prospects will be taken in the top ten.  This is simply a list of ten guys I’m looking forward to watching go through the process of turning pro.

  1. Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan

This is the main reason I had to put in the disclaimer.  I haven’t seen enough of Rush to be fully comfortable saying he’ll make for a great pro one day, but I have seen enough to be interested in how he does this fall.  Last year’s stats are intriguing.  25 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, 3848 yards on 324 completions, a 66.3 completion percentage, if he improves on those numbers he’ll certainly draw someone’s interest.

  1. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Without Freeman, the Oregon Ducks might have lost six games last year, instead of four.  Whenever Vernon Adams was struggling (which was often), his saving grace was being able to hand it to Freeman.  He rushed for at least 105 yards in all but two games and scored touchdowns in bunches with six multi-score performances.

  1. Roger Lewis, WR, Bowling Green

Again, I’m never sure how anyone else is going to look at MAC football and those who play it, but this guy’s talented.  He’s got the hands, the quickness and at six-foot, 196 he’s not as small as he sometimes looks.  As a sophomore last year, Lewis won the Paul Warfield Award, the Touchdown Club of Columbus’ honor for the nation’s top collegiate receiver.  2014’s winner was Amari Cooper.  Even though his quarterback has graduated, I can’t wait to see what Lewis will do this fall.

  1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

Another super sophomore last year, Smith-Schuster put up the fourth most receiving yards in FBS.  If you want to see blazing speed you’ve found it right here.  Get the ball in this guy’s hands and watch him run by people.  There’s no doubt he has some refining to do, but his potential is undeniable.

  1. Desmond King, DB, Iowa

With so much passing going on, corners are valuable nowadays and King is one of the best around.  Iowa went undefeated in the regular season because of its defense, which becomes much easier to play when you only have to worry about the opposing quarterback throwing to one side of the field.  King locked down the opponents’ best target all season.  Maybe last year was a fluke, but I doubt it.

  1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Mr. Yards after the Catch, himself checks in at number five.  McCaffrey finished third in Heisman voting last season and will be back in New York as a finalist again this year.  On a team that’s lacked offensive playmakers for years, he’s what Cardinal fans have been waiting for.  Hand it to him, split him out, sneak him out into the flat and check it down to him, it doesn’t matter.  McCaffrey averages six yards a carry and 14 yards per completion.

  1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Mayfield burst onto the scene during Oklahoma’s magical run to the College Football Playoff and I want to see if he can continue playing at such a high level.  The top-notch numbers he put up were one thing, but the way he led his team by example was another.  The Sooners fed off his energy and he was able to answer the bell for them just about every time.  He’s fun to watch and I’m glad he’ll be coming back for another year.

  1. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

With Derrick Henry and McCaffrey and Leo Fournette all going off last fall, Cook got a bit overshadowed.  Still, he scored 19 touchdowns on the ground and was one of two players with 200 attempts to average north of seven yards a carry.  Don’t forget about this guy.

  1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

He’s got to be the most feared defender in college right now, which is funny because his team is terrible defensively.  Opponents plan their games around Garrett and it works because there’s no one else to help.  Garrett still gets his though.  12.5 sacks last year tied him with Shaq Lawson for fifth in the FBS.  There’s a premium on pass rushers of late and Garrett looks to be the next great one.

  1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

This guy’s unreal.  He can bully you or blow by you, depending how he’s feeling at the time.  Last fall, Fournette got off to a torrid start, rushing for 1352 yards in his first seven games.  He couldn’t keep up that frantic pace, but he still finished third in the FBS in rushing yards.  This rising junior has already proven, at least physically, he’s ready for the jump to the NFL.  Watching him takeover games should be even more of a spectacle in 2016.

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Pac-12 Football Early Preview: USC Trojans

The USC Trojans are the Pac-12 version of a soap opera plain and simple. For the Trojans to end that stigma, they have to up their game considerably in 2016. Tons of fans love the Trojans, what they stand for, and all the winning they have done in the past. However, to quote Janet Jackson, “What have you done for me lately?” There is always a ton of talk coming out of Trojan land about how good they are going to be, but have the Trojans really backed all that talk up the last 10 years or so? For Trojan alumni, coaches, and players it is a National Championship or nothing type of mentality. The emphasis lately has been on the nothing part of that statement. What can we expect in 2016?

Schedule

The Trojans need to get off to a good start, so they build momentum for the rest of the season. When looking at their 2016 schedule you become fully aware that the good start they will want to have will be rather challenging. The first game out of shoot for the Trojans is none other than defending National Champion Alabama. This game is going to be played in Arlington, Texas where the Dallas Cowboys play. The subplot of Lane Kiffin playing his former team will be a big story heading into the game, but USC can’t afford to be caught up in all that mess. After that game, they get to play Utah State at home. They should beat the Aggies, but this program is on the rise out West and they may give the Trojans more than they are looking for in the second game of the season. The third game on The Farm at Stanford. The Stanford-USC game has turned into an exciting game to watch the last couple of years. Stanford won last season in Los Angeles, so the Trojans will be looking for some payback. The next game is also on the road against Utah. Now Utah lost some good weapons from last season, but playing in the altitude in Salt Lake City is never fun for anybody. The fans will want some Trojan blood and this will be an earlier indicator of who wants to take control of the South Division of the Pac-12.

Two big games that they get at home this year are Oregon and Notre Dame. The Oregon game happens November 5 and the Notre Dame game is November 26. Oregon will be looking to reclaim their dominance over the conference this season, so this will be a big game in regards to that. Notre Dame may have College Football Playoff aspirations going for them, so they will be coming into this game focused.

All in all, getting out of these first four games with a 3-1 record might be asking a bit much for the Trojans, but to have any thought of being in the conference title game or even the playoff it is absolute must.

Additions/Losses

For the Trojans, who will be replacing Cody Kessler will be one of, if not, the most important decision the coaching staff will make for 2016. Kessler was a guy that didn’t have all the records or anything close to it, but sometimes the measure of player is how good of a locker room guy he is. That was Cody Kessler, he kept the locker room together for the Trojans in a circus kind of year. Going into spring practice, Max Browne will be considered the guy to beat, but don’t sleep on Sam Darnhold. He could challenge Browne depending on what new OC Tee Martin wants to do with the offense.

The continued development of Ronald Jones II will be something to look for because if Jones can continue to get better it’ll help give the new quarterback a little more time to feel comfortable in the new offense. RoJo is a weapon because he broke the freshman record for rushing in 2015 and if he can get better at catching the ball out of the backfield, the sky will be the limit for this player. I’m telling you right now, put this player on your radar.

Coaching for the USC Trojans is a difficult task for any coach. When Steve Sarkisian was let go, Clay Helton dealt with what he had with coaches and then after the blowout in the Pac-12 Championship game he overhauled the coaching staff.

New coaches or coaches in new roles include: John Baxter (special teams/TE), Ronny Bradford (secondary), Neil Callaway (offensive line), Tyson Helton (quarterback/passing game coordinator), Tee Martin (OC), Clancy Pendergast (DC), Tommie Robinson (running backs/running game coordinator), and Kenechi Udeze (defensive line).

With all this newness to the coaching staff, it might take a little bit for everybody on the staff to become cohesive. Some of these coaches have been at USC for a little while and so the familiarity with the players will be good, but having new titles and responsibilities will be something to watch. Tee Martin will have a ton of focus on him as he takes the reigns of a USC offense. Will he open up the offense or keep it like is always has been? Let’s hope he opens it up a little more and with players like JuJu Smith, Adoree Jackson, Steven Mitchell, and Darreus Rogers at his disposal it could be raining touchdowns at the L.A. Coliseum this year.

Final Thoughts

USC is a glamour school for players, coaches, and fans alike, however, the school gets all this publicity year after year and it’s been 10 years since they were in the conversation for a National Championship. People may argue that point, but when in the last 10 years have the Trojans been in the mix? Don’t get me wrong, I respect the program, what they have done in the past, but that is exactly what I am saying. It’s the past. Time to make the future for the Trojans and if I were a Trojan alumni I would be a bit anxious about 2016. The cohesiveness that needs to happen with the coaching staff and what happens at quarterback will be the determining factors in the success of the program. Fight On!

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.

Trojans and Badgers Battle in the Holiday Bowl

We finally made it to the point in the bowl season where the match ups get a bit more interesting and that is exactly what we have in the Holiday Bowl with USC and Wisconsin. Both of these teams have been a bit more up-and-down than some people thought and will be looking to provide a springboard into 2016 with a win at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

Haters are going to hate, right? Well, if you’re USC, you have plenty of them and for the most part the Trojans have provided plenty of fuel to the fire for those people who don’t like USC. Between the coaching issues with Steve Sarkisian, the decision making by AD Pat Haden, and even the hiring of Clay Helton, the 2015 season has been one of ups and downs for the storied Pac-12 program. What do they need to do against Wisconsin to win?

The one thing they do have is talent. It’s young talent, but it’s talent that most football programs would die to have.

The aerial attack that USC can throw at opposing teams can cause defensive coordinators to have sleepless nights. It all starts with Cody Kessler who had a solid year, not the Heisman year that some people imagined, but nothing to be ashamed of. When Kessler looks to score quick he looks to JuJu Smith-Schuster who grabbed 85 receptions, 1,389 yards, and scored 10 touchdowns. He has speed that makes other players seem like they are playing with cement tied around their ankles. Not to be outdone is two-way player Adoree’ Jackson who may be the only player to make JuJu look slow. Jackson had 35 receptions for 308 yards while also playing defensive back for USC.

These two give the Trojans so much speed on the outside, it’ll be interesting to see how Wisconsin responds to it. USC also has Steven Mitchell Jr and Darreus Rodgers who combined for 61 receptions, 572 yards, and four touchdowns. Clearly the Trojans pose a problem for the Badgers with this kind of passing attack and since the Badgers have only faced two top-50 passing teams this season in Nebraska and Illinois it will be of utmost importance for the Badgers to limit their success.

When I think of Wisconsin, one of the things that comes to mind is a tough defense with big, stout farm kids from the dairy land. They absolutely have that this year, especially against the run. The Badgers rank fourth nationally against the run. As a complete defense they are first nationally in allowing just 13.1 points a game. The Badgers might want to play to their strengths and stop the run to make Cody Kessler put the entire offense on his shoulders. Every defensive coordinator wants to make the opposing offense one-dimensional, so if they can shut down the Trojan running attack which is good, then they can bring more defensive backs into the game to help limit the USC passing attack. This will be one of things that I will be looking for in this game.

This is that classic Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup that most people see in the Rose Bowl, but with this game there are other aspects that are on the line for both teams. Wisconsin is going for its fifth 10-win season since 2009.  In that time period only Ohio State and Michigan State have more wins. Clay Helton is going for his first win as USC’s official head coach. A win for Helton’s Trojans in this game will quiet many of negative thoughts that some have had since the Trojans removed the interim tag from Helton.

In the end, this is a hard game to figure out. Can a good offense overcome a great defense or does the defense shut the offense down? Most coaches will say defense wins championships, but if you can’t score then the defense is rendered moot. I’m going to Fight On with the Trojans and their offense. USC wins 30-17.

Five You Must See: Week Eight

#20 Cal (5-1) at UCLA (4-2) Thursday 9:00 PM on ESPN

To start off your weekend, flip over to this west coast battle between teams trying to bounce back.  Cal suffered a minor setback two weeks ago, turning the ball over six times and losing by six points at Utah.  You can bet Sonny Dykes used the Bears’ bye week to draw up some new schemes to throw at the Bruins.

After looking like the team to beat in September, UCLA is in danger of dropping their third straight if they’re not careful.  Injuries on defense are catching up to them quicker than they’d hoped.  The Bruins have lost a key member to each level of their defense, most notably linebacker Myles Jack who is no longer with the team because he has declared for the NFL draft.

Speaking of the draft, you’ll want to take advantage of a rare opportunity to see Cal quarterback Jared Goff.  Many are touting him as possibly the first QB taken this April.  Jim Mora had better find a way to get more out of his defense or Goff will take advantage.

UCLA needs a fast start to win this game.  Josh “chosen” Rosen has proven to be capable of a lot of things you wouldn’t expect from a true freshman quarterback.  Leading a comeback against a conference opponent is not one of those things.  If Cal scores the first two touchdowns they’ll probably run away with it.

Tennessee (3-3) at #8 Alabama (6-1) Saturday 3:30 PM on CBS

As I’ve said before, there aren’t many weekends where I’m not interested in the SEC on CBS game of the week.  Few things say fall quite like hearing Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson go back and forth, drooling over how impressive this guy and that guy are.  I watch because even the bad matchups are made entertaining by those two in the booth.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to rely on Verne and Gary this week as well.

(Photo: USA Today Sports)
(Photo: USA Today Sports)

Frankly, I’m not giving Tennessee much of a chance in this one.  Alabama is just too strong.  The Tide offensive line has been commanding the line of scrimmage since slipping up in the loss to Ole Miss.  Running back Derrick Henry has been the main beneficiary.  The workhorse is up over 900 yards on the season with 12 rushing touchdowns.  He averages over 20 carries per game, and at nearly six yards a pop that makes for a long day if you’re lined up on the other side.

We can’t discount the Vols’ resiliency though.  They’ve lost three games to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas by a combined 12 points.  Last time out they were down 24-3 in the first half against Georgia, only to come storming back to win 38-31.  Quarterback Josh Dobbs leads his team by example.  The kid plays every down with a toughness that’s rarely seen in quarterbacks.  It’s refreshing to see, and he’s going to need it with the Bama defense chasing him around all afternoon.

Alabama needs a win to set up that epic showdown with LSU in two weeks.  First, let’s see how they handle a team with nothing to lose at this point.

#15 Texas A&M (5-1) at #24 Ole Miss (5-2) Saturday 7:00 PM on ESPN

Here we have another matchup of two teams coming off losses.  A&M was put in their place by Alabama in a game that was never really close.  Meanwhile, Ole Miss was beaten convincingly by a Memphis team that everyone had not taken seriously enough.

Interestingly, this will be the Aggies’ first true road game this season.  In retrospect, it’s easy to see that we all probably gave them a bit too much credit for their “neutral-site” win over Arizona State in the season opener.  That alone was enough to catapult them from unranked to #16.  Since then Kevin Sumlin’s squad hasn’t done anything more than we would have expected them to.  This is their opportunity to show everyone they’re for real this year.  I’m not sure they are.

The Rebels’ standout defensive end Robert Nkemdiche suffered a concussion while carrying the ball on offense last week.  Suddenly, people don’t seem to think it’s such a great idea for Hugh Freeze to be using one of his best players on both sides.  Nkemdiche’s availability this weekend is still in question.  Not having him in the lineup would be a huge blow to the Rebel defense.

These two seem pretty evenly matched so the game will come down to who can limit their own mistakes and capitalize on their opponents’.  We should be looking at a full sixty minutes here.

#3 Utah (6-0) at USC (3-3) Saturday 7:30 PM on Fox

USC has a lot going on right now.  Head coach Steve Sarkisian is long gone.  Athletic Director Pat Haden collapsed on the sideline before last Saturday’s game at Notre Dame.  Not to mention, the Trojans are staring their fourth loss right in the face with the powerful Utes coming to the Coliseum.

Utah might be the best overall team in the nation right now.  They’ve got an expert possession-style gameplan courtesy of head coach Kyle Whittingham.  And if you do happen to knock them off their game somehow, the Utes can handle it because there aren’t many things they don’t do well.

I’m looking forward to watching Cody Kessler, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree Jackson challenge Utah’s defense.  If those three can take advantage of the Utes’ one perceived weakness, their secondary, then this game will become much more interesting.

If not, we could see Utah make another big statement by blowing out a conference opponent on the road for the second time this fall.

Washington (3-3) at #10 Stanford (5-1) Saturday 10:30 PM on ESPN

The night cap should be a decent enough watch this week.  Even if it’s not, you’ll want to see this revitalized Stanford team.  Since losing to Northwestern to open the season, the Cardinal have scored 31, 41, 42, 55, and 56 points in their last five games, winning by an average of 22 points.  That’s wonderfully uncharacteristic for a team that’s used to handling opponents but only winning by two touchdowns.

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports)
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today Sports)

Quarterback Kevin Hogan is doing exactly what he needs to, completing easy passes (65.9% completion rate) and taking care of the ball (12-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio).  The rest is as simple as turning around and handing the ball off because running back Christian McCaffrey has been feasting on Pac-12 defenses.  In four conference games McCaffrey has yet to fail to reach 100 yards, rushing for 200+ twice.  Last Thursday against UCLA he racked up four touchdowns on the ground, averaging nearly 10 yards while carrying the ball 25 times.  I’ll be shocked if the Cardinal don’t keep feeding him.

Washington may look like a pushover, but like Tennessee, they make for entertaining games by keeping themselves within striking distance.  The Huskies have lost to Boise State, Cal and Oregon by a combined 15 points.  They don’t stop the run or the pass exceptionally well.  They just keep their opponents out of the endzone.  U-Dub comes into this one ranked sixteenth in scoring defense, allowing just 16.8 points per game.

Washington might be the only Pac-12 team left on Stanford’s schedule that can stop this sudden offensive explosion.  I never thought I’d say this, but the higher the score is the more I like Stanford here.

Game of the Weak

Troy (1-5) at New Mexico State (0-6)

Big shoutout to Aaron Creguer for suggesting that I feature this atrocious matchup in a new “Game of the Weak” segment that will highlight the worst game on the schedule each week.

These two abominable programs have accounted for just a single win this fall.  That one came when Troy beat up on Charleston Southern of the FCS.  The Trojans have played in some tough road games, travelling to NC State, Wisconsin and Mississippi State.  But, it doesn’t seem to have done them much good since they’ve dropped games to South Alabama and Idaho as well.

New Mexico State, for my money, is the worst team in the FBS.  The Aggies have collected two SEC paychecks for getting embarrassed by Florida and Ole Miss.  They’ve lost to Georgia State and Georgia Southern, a feat that I can’t imagine any FBS team has ever accomplished.  And they’ve already chalked up an L next to their biggest game against rival New Mexico.

If for some reason you’re interested in watching this futility you can stream the game on the Watch ESPN app Saturday night at 8:00pm.

Trojan Domination

Everything in Tempe, Arizona felt different with the USC Trojans in town to play the Arizona State Sun Devils. This was a game that both teams desperately needed to keep their hopes of winning the Pac-12 South division alive, even at this early juncture in conference play. The Trojans made the statement and the Sun Devils were lost in a dust storm of bad play, turnovers, and having no consistency on offense.

There is always something a little different to a college football game when a big name team comes to town. The USC Trojans are one of those teams that add a little more to the meaning of the game because of their history and tradition. Walking up to the stadium I could feel the tension in the air and had some conversations with some USC fans.

“This game is something we need to have so we have a chance at the conference title, maybe even a playoff berth.” Said Trojan fan Mark Little.

“We are the big brother to Arizona State. They are nothing but a nuisance. Coming out here to Tempe is something we do, only because we have to.” Said USC fanatic Julie Sanders.

With those statements I knew the Trojan faithful were fully engaged in the game and knew the importance of getting a win at Arizona State. The USC team was also focused on the task at hand. The players knew that their loss to Stanford the previous week put them behind the proverbial eight ball, and questions were surfacing about how good they really were. I had questions about their toughness after watching Stanford push them around L.A. Coliseum last week. The other question I had for this Trojan team was: How does this team respond to these negative questions about them?

I wanted to see this team up close and personal, so I stayed on the field as kickoff was approaching. The stadium was rocking, it was loud, and the Sun Devil fans were ready for some Trojan blood. However, it was not Trojan blood that was extracted. Instead it was Sun Devil blood that was sprayed all over field in Tempe. It wasn’t exactly a slow bleed, it was more of a violent slash across the body of the Sun Devils. The Trojans enjoyed being the hated team on Saturday night. They were antagonizing the crowd as they took the field by waving their arms at the crowd, pointing to their jerseys as if to say “You wish you were USC!” The crowd reacted like you would expect, with a loud chorus of boos. USC didn’t care. Even Head Coach Steve Sarkisian was exchanging barbs with the student section when he came out. The Trojans players as well as the coaches were ready for battle and right then I knew this could be a long night for the Devils.

The answer to my question came lightning quick after they took the opening kickoff. The first play from the line of scrimmage was a 52-yard deep ball to JuJu Smith-Schuster. That showed everyone in Sun Devil Stadium that the Trojans were there to play and show that they were in town on a business trip. USC was not here to make friends or even new fans, they were in town to exact their dominance over their perceived little brother.

At the end of the first quarter it was still a ball game with the Trojans leading only 7-0. It was not going to stay like that for long.

The second quarter was the quarter of death for the Sun Devils. Mike Bercovici throws an interception and two minutes later, Cody Kessler throws a touchdown pass to Steven Mitchell Jr. The Trojans never looked back.

The next possession for the Trojans was a short one as well. They only used a little over 2 minutes to strike again. Kessler found his best receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the end zone and just like that, it was 21-0. The air in Sun Devil Stadium was effectively sucked out of it with that score. The Trojans had taken the crowd out of it and were loving every minute of it.

The tsunami of points was only beginning.

The next possession for the Sun Devils had promise. They had a drive getting down to the USC one yard line. The crowd was starting to get back into it. Maybe this was the momentum that the Sun Devils needed to start some sort of crazy comeback. I don’t think so. Whatever momentum the Devils had disappeared when quarterback Mike Bercovici fumbled the ball and Trojan Chris Hawkins scooped up the ball and returned it 94 yards for the score.

28-0 USC Trojans. The game was effectively over at that point.

The mistakes for the Sun Devils compounded with the next kickoff.

Gump Hayes takes the kickoff for the Sun Devils and brings the ball out slow and indecisively and it cost the team immensely. He fumbles the ball at the Devil four yard line and a couple of plays later Cody Kessler finds JuJu Smith-Schuster again for the touchdown.

Game over at halftime, 35-0. The crowd starts leaving in droves. Sun Devil fans had better things to do than to watch this massacre and I didn’t blame them for leaving. There was not a comeback in the mix for the Devils on this night at all. The Sun Devils were flat and the Trojans were taking full advantage of it.

The final score was 42-14 and the season of dreams for the Arizona State Sun Devils was effectively put to rest. When the lights were the brightest for the Devils, they showed that they were not ready for primetime yet or maybe at all. And when the pressure and the big lights were shining, the USC Trojans showed why they are ready for primetime. The Trojans made the plays when they needed to and let everybody know that they are still the USC Trojans and should be taken seriously this season.

Five You Must See: Week Four West Coast Edition

Week four brings with it the official start of conference play.  The Pac-12 takes center stage on Saturday night with multiple games with championship implications in the spotlight.  Since it’s such a big weekend in the west, I thought I’d show some love to the “Best Coast” in this week’s Five You Must See:

Tennessee at Florida 3:30 P.M. on CBS

Before we head out west, let’s get one thing clear.  I’m a sucker for Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on an autumn afternoon.  Those two are a large part of why I’m such an SEC fan.  It’s hard for an SEC on CBS game not to be one of the five you must see on any given weekend.  The network gets to take their pick and they normally choose wisely.  This game is another example.  Tennessee has one loss already and can’t afford to take another in their conference opener.  Florida is 3-0 to start the season for the first time since 2012.  The Gators are coming off a quality road win over Kentucky that should get their ball rolling as they get set to defend The Swamp.  The Vols have no choice but to be motivated for a game against a team they haven’t beaten since 2004.  If you’re looking for an authentic taste of the South this weekend then watch this game.

California at Washington 5:00 P.M. on Pac-12 Network

Photo: Kelley L Cox-USA Today Sports
Photo: Kelley L Cox-USA Today Sports

According to the Pac-12 Network this week, many won’t be able to watch any of the games featured on the channel at all this season.  It’s sad that big business is not allowing the fans to watch the games they want to see, but I guess that’s just the way it is now.  Anyway, the matchup is interesting because you’ve got two mid-tier teams with a chance to fill some open space toward the top of the Pac-12 North.  Cal hung on for dear life in Austin last week and came away with a 45-44 win over Texas.  You’ll want to watch quarterback Jared Goff who continues to impress NFL scouts with his throwing ability.  Washington intrigued me in the second half of their opening game at Boise State.  I want to see how they handle their first big home game of the year.  Tune in for this one if you can.

#9 UCLA at #16 Arizona 8:00 P.M. on ABC

The winner of this game seizes early control of the loaded Pac-12 South.  Both teams are dealing with injuries to their best defensive player.  Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright will likely be a game-time-decision as he nurses a torn meniscus from week one.  UCLA got tragic news on Wednesday when linebacker/ running back Myles Jack went down for the season with what is apparently a much more serious meniscus tear.  Jack is the third defensive starter the Bruins have lost for the season in three weeks.  The Wildcats will certainly be attempting to take advantage of the inexperienced substitutes.  UCLA put an end to the BYU Cougars’ Hail Mary magic last week.  A win here would mean at a top five spot for the Bruins in next week’s AP Poll.  An Arizona victory could vault the Wildcats into the top 10.  Also, College GameDay is in Tucson for just the third time ever so that makes it even more fun.

#18 Utah at #13 Oregon 8:30 P.M. on Fox

Nowadays, everybody wants to talk about the Pac-12, but they act like they forgot about Utah.  The Utes are a good team with a unique style that often gives more talented teams trouble.  Devontae Booker runs the ball as well as anyone in the Pac-12 and the Utes’ front seven stops their opponents from running well at all.  Neither team has officially announced who will start at quarterback on Saturday night, and probably won’t until game time.  Utah’s Travis Wilson injured his shoulder two weeks ago and sat out last week.  The oft-injured Kendal Thompson got the start against Fresno State and might get the ball again this week.  Oregon’s Vernon Adams also did not play last week.  Jeff Lockie filled in adequately against Georgia State.  I’m expecting both original starters to go, but if it comes down to it Oregon would lose more with their backup in than Utah would with theirs.  Hearing Gus Johnson on the call can only make this exciting game more thrilling.  Flip back and forth between this and UCLA-Arizona.

#19 USC at Arizona State 10:30 P.M. on ESPN

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

The night cap is too close to call.  So, just like on election night, you’ll have to stay up in order to get your satisfaction.  USC is a five and a half point favorite, but ask yourself, “Do you truly trust the Trojans on the road in a game they’re favored to win?”  After last week’s debacle against Stanford maybe people will finally pump the brakes on the Trojan train.  Not to mention how good Arizona State can still be.  Sure, the Sun Devils got off to a lousy start by losing to Texas A&M and didn’t do much beyond what was necessary against Cal Poly and New Mexico.  However, it would be foolish to discount the ability of Arizona State’s playmakers.  Speaking of offensive prowess, boy do the Trojans have a matchup nightmare in JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose 434 receiving yards are good for third in the nation.  USC head coach Steve Sarkisian showed us earlier this year that he, like California, knows how to party.  Now let’s see if he knows how to coach in weighty road games.

The “Better as a Basketball Game” of the Week

Photo: Joe Maiorana - USA Today Sports
Photo: Joe Maiorana – USA Today Sports

West Virginia hosts Maryland this Saturday at 3:00 on Fox Sports 1.  That’ll be a decent watch, I guess, but imagine if it were a basketball game.  Now, all of a sudden you have #18 West Virginia hosting #16 Maryland (according to last year’s final rankings) in a rematch of last year’s third round NCAA Tournament game.  That’s a matchup worthy of primetime.  Unfortunately the football version is nowhere near as big.  In the winter these two are must-see, but in the fall they’re easily skippable.