Tag Archives: Oregon

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 vs SEC: The Ongoing Debate

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West Coast against the South or is it the other way around? Is this even a question to fans in the South? Somebody is as good as the SEC? Could it be that the mighty SEC not be as good as they once where? That real possibility exists these days in major college football and the debate is sometimes contentious, sometimes fun, but it is certainly entertaining.

To put it mildly, this is a debate that has become a big part of the college football conversation. What has happened to cause this? Well, the Pac-12 has become a power in college football. The coaching has become much better, they are paying their coaches as well as any other conference, and that means they are paying their coaches like the SEC does. When you can attract top notch coaches to your conference you can attract top notch talent, and that is exactly what has happened.  However, let’s take a look at the numbers and see how they compare.

After the 2014 season, including the bowl season it was obvious to everybody which conference played the best and maybe made the statement as to who is the top Power 5 Conference in the country. The bowl season was great to the Pac-12. They finished the post season 6-3, while the mighty SEC finished a very disappointing 2-5 in the bowls, including 0-4 in the New Year’s Six bowl games. If people want to talk about match ups, whatever, because if you are THAT good as a conference you beat anybody that lines up across from you. Not only did the Pac-12 have the better record than the SEC, they scored eight more points per game than there opposition during the bowls. Oregon, Stanford, and Utah won their games by 24 points. Arizona State, USC, and UCLA won close games. With the final polls, the Pac-12 finished with six teams ranked in the top 25.

In college football, and football in general if you have a quarterback that is steady, consistent and can make plays, you can win more often than not. In the Pac-12 they have had the benefit of having some phenomenal quarterbacks. However, that should not come as a surprise because if you compare the style of play in each conference, quarterbacks are going to thrive more in the wide open style on the West Coast.  Quarterbacks like Sean Mannion, Marcus Mariota, Andrew Luck, Brett Hundley, Mike Bercovici, Anu Solomon, Cody Kessler, Connor Halliday, and Kevin Hogan are just a few that have been taking snaps for Pac-12 teams the past few years. When you have that much talent just at one position you put your conference in a spot where they are going to win a ton of games and bring the profile up of the conference. These quarterbacks have done just that for the Pac-12. It’s a quarterbacks league out here in the West and high school talent has recognized that.

This argument between the fans of both conferences is entertaining to listen to, but me being a West Coast guy and recognizing that the SEC is a conference of teams to be reckoned with it’s a discussion that will continue to heat up as the Pac-12 continues to show that they are worthy of it. I simply believe that from top to bottom the Pac-12 is the best conference. You have Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Utah, Oregon, Stanford, Washington, and don’t sleep on California this year either that can line up against any of those SEC teams and either beat them or give them all they can handle. The SEC just doesn’t show up anymore and intimidate teams. Ask Alabama about Ohio State or Auburn about Wisconsin. You may get some interesting thoughts there from the coaches, players, and fans.

How can we settle this argument once and for all? The obvious answer is by playing each other more often than what the norm as been. Traveling west of Texas for a lot of the SEC is not something that they do to many times. The last time an SEC team came out West was 2013 when Tennessee visited Oregon. However, things are starting to change this year as Arizona State travels to Texas A&M, but compelling match ups are coming in the years to follow. Alabama/USC, LSU/UCLA, Arizona/Mississippi State, LSU/Arizona State, UCLA/LSU, and Georgia/UCLA are coming down the pipeline for college football fans.

I will say this. Some of these match ups don’t happen for 5-8 years which is a crying shame, but it certainly gives us something to talk about in the years to come. I’ve always thought the scheduling for games shouldn’t go so far out in years. To me there is no reason for it. Go like 2-3 years out, and if something comes along that needs changing, then you can change it and get a match up that’ll bring fans to the stadium. Just a thought.  As a fan and writer of college football, I’ll talk any match up that we can get between the two conferences. Beggars can’t be choosers right? With all these match ups coming, here are a few that many fans still clamor for.

The big one would be Alabama against Oregon. These two fan bases have been “quacking” at each other for a few years now and the different style of offenses would be fun to watch. A power offense against the no huddle, spread offense.

Stanford against Auburn would be fun. Auburn has scheduled California for a future home and home, so just go down the road 45 minutes and play the Cardinal. The match up would be great to watch between David Shaw and Gus Malzahn.

Utah against Missouri would be a match up of two teams that don’t get as much credit or respect as maybe they should. Even though these two teams have had some very good success in the past few seasons, they still continue to fight for respect, so to see them battle it out would be phenomenal.

At the end of the day, what do we know? We know that both the Pac-12 and SEC are the two top conferences in the country. Are we splitting hairs trying to figure out who is the best conference? Probably, but it’s so much fun. For me, it’s the Pac-12, they have the talent on the sidelines, the talent on the field, and with their winning in the post season to show me that by a slight margin it’s the Pac-12 who should be atop the mountain in the Power 5 Conferences. Will there be disagreement with this? Yes, but that is what makes college football what it is today. Back the Pac!

Leave a comment below, e-mail Mike at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @pigskinopinion.

Power 5 Conference Scheduling: 8 or 9 Games?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

College Football Signing Day Perspective

The day is coming that many college football fans look forward to. It is college football signing day. This is a day that many fans look at with bated breath because the decisions by these young athletes make total strangers either love them forever or despise forever. I look at signing day as a day that can’t be quantified for at least two years.

There is an old recruiting quote by Texas legend Darrell Royal that always strikes me around this time of year. It goes: “It’s not about the X’s and O’s, but the Jimmy and Joes.” To me that says everything you need to know about how important recruiting is. You can have the best coach ever, but if that coach doesn’t have the talent, then he is looking for a new job very quickly. Talent wins the games. There is a reason why Oregon runs the Pac-12 right now, it’s why Ohio State is the National Champion, and why the SEC has won so many titles. Talent, talent, and talent. People matter and the type of people that coaches recruit give life to his program and shows the viability of the program for future years.

Fans, short for fanatics have turned this recruiting stuff in a national craze and social media has also turned this recruiting news into a college football obsession. Once a fans school has their season come to an end, they start taking a look at who has verbally committed and who has possibly signed early. When fans start doing this they start looking at how these athletes will benefit the program in the coming years. It’s really a selfish kind of mentality because a lot of fans don’t care about the other aspects of this kids life, but only how this kid is going to get wins for Alabama, Michigan, or UCLA. If you sit back and really think about it, this kind of thinking is quite disturbing and a possible microcosm of our off the rails culture. However, it’s college football and it’s the way things tend to get in sports.

Most coaches will tell you that recruiting matters, otherwise they would not be out on the “recruiting trail” making all the in-home visits, sending text message, letters, or any kind of communication through social media. Great players make their coaches look even greater. Now, don’t spin it. Coaching does matter because the players have to learn how to maximize their talent and put into positions to win, but if the talent is not there, the chances to make those plays on a consistent basis do not exist. I would love to see somebody ask a coach about having talent and not having talent and what it all means. If they don’t answer the question by saying that the talent that they have is reason why they are winning, they would be lying through their teeth. Coaches have ego’s I understand that, but if they are true to themselves they would realize that they are only as good as their least talented player.

The other aspect of signing day that is somewhat annoying is that the media, social media, and parents have made a “scene” out of what choice their child is going to. We’ve all seen the press conference. The football player is sitting in a gym, at a table, 3-5 hats sitting in front of him, and the athlete is all smiles. Now I would be all smiles to if I had a ton of schools wanting my athletic services. The player pretends to grab each hat and then goes back to the hat of the school they are attending. The crowd responds with applause, the athlete smiles. After that, expectations are placed on this young man that most 18 year old kids don’t get placed on them. The downside to these expectations are if the kid doesn’t live up to the hype/expectations then they get labeled as a failure and that is not fair for a young athlete. That stigma can sting and last a very long time causing the football player to not live up to the hype.

In a few days, signing day will occur and the spirits of these schools and their alumni will either be lifted greatly or tempered by the kids they sign or don’t sign. Around the Pac-12 it will be interesting to see who replaces their outgoing talent with great incoming talent.

USC will be one school to watch. As I have said many times with them, they will have the full compliment of scholarships available to them to add more depth to their roster. The Trojans can step into anybody’s living room, anywhere in the country and be able to recruit any kid. Why? They are USC that’s why. Oregon will be replacing, the irreplaceable at quarterback, Oregon State has a whole new system and staff to reignite the Beavers, UCLA will have a big task in replacing Brett Hundley, and watching Colorado to see if they can lift themselves up from being the doormat of the Pac-12.

Signing day is big, no doubt, but we as sports writers and fans have to have perspective with all this. We have to make sure that expectations placed on these young men are no greater than what these young athletes have already placed on themselves.NCAA

Five Reasons Why Ohio State Will Beat Oregon

The inaugural CFP Championship Game is finally here and with just one more victory, Ohio State would complete one of the most improbable championship runs in the history of the sport. As we all know, the Buckeyes enter the title game with plenty of momentum after compiling over 100 combined points in their previous two contests against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. The Badgers and Crimson Tide aren’t exactly slouches on defense so there is plenty of reason for optimism concerning the Ohio State offense when they take the field against an Oregon defense that allows its fair share of points.

However, let’s not count our chickens just yet. Oregon has the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota and Ohio State does not. Mariota and the high-powered Quack Attack will present a challenge unlike any other for the Buckeye defense this season.

The Ducks will be without the services of receivers Devon Allen and Darren Carrington. Dontre Wilson, who originally committed to Oregon, is set to make his return for the Buckeyes after suffering a broken leg in the victory at Michigan State. With the title game in Dallas at Jerry’s World, it will be a championship-style homecoming for Wilson as he will be playing just 24 miles from his hometown of DeSoto, Texas. In any event, Oregon’s offense will be fine, even without two of their top receivers. This championship game has all the makings of a potential classic, even with the Ducks listed as seven-point favorites.

Here are five reasons why Ohio State will defeat Oregon and make its long-awaited return to the top of the college football mountain .bosaoregon

  1. Ohio State Front Seven

The Silver Bullets are back and turned in dominant performances against Wisconsin and Alabama and there’s no reason to think a championship game against Oregon is going to slow this train down. They don’t play a great deal of defense out west and the Oregon offensive line is in for a physical challenge that will be unlike any other the Ducks have been accustomed to in the Pac-12 this season. Arizona proved to be one of the better defensive squads in the Pac-12 and were able to shutdown Mariota and the Oregon offense in an early-season upset in Eugene. First-Team All-Americans Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett should be able to make life difficult for Mariota, or at least make him uncomfortable. Players like Darron Lee, Steve Miller and Joshua Perry don’t take a backseat to anyone and should make enough plays to throw the Ducks off their game. Oregon will get their points, no doubt, but it’s not going to be with video-game efficiency.

  1. 12-Gauge

I’m not sure if I buy that Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones is ready for the NFL Draft after three games, but there is no denying that the guy  is playing some damn good football. The “truckstick” is ready to put a stamp on the greatest three-game resume in the history of football which would include a Big Ten Championship, Sugar Bowl victory and oh yeah, a national championship. How does that look for the most anticipated quarterback competition in Ohio State history next season? Obviously, I think Jones will see some different looks and more of a zone defense to take away the deep ball, but I don’t think it’s anything he can’t handle. My gosh, I believe Jones has answered the bell before. Ezekiel Elliott should take a lot of pressure off Jones and the passing game with the way he’s been running of late. If you’re comparing Mariota to Jones, Mariota wins. We’re talking about a Heisman winner against a third-string quarterback right? Jones obviously isn’t your average third-stringer and the way Heisman finalists have been contained, if not shutdown, of late by the Buckeye defense, Jones may just be the winner on this night.

  1. Gordon Bombay isn’t coaching these Ducks.bombay

Last time I checked, Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich isn’t referred to as “The Oregon Miracle Man,” at least not yet. Anything less means no championship for the Ducks. Oregon is 0-8 all-time against Ohio State and for good reason. Bombay didn’t coach in any of those games either, including the 2009 Rose Bowl.

  1. Meyer > Helfrich

Do we even need to compare resumes of the two coaches? Don’t get me wrong, Helfrich is a good coach who has managed to keep the Oregon program rolling since Chip Kelly’s departure to the NFL. However, the cupboard wasn’t exactly bare when Helfrich took over the Ducks. On the other hand, Meyer has managed to not only win, but turnaround four programs including Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and now Ohio State. Don’t forget it’s only been a few years since Ohio State was 6-6 in a bad Big Ten, prior to Meyer’s arrival. Oh and a side note, Meyer has won two national championships and hoping to make it a third. This isn’t Meyer’s first rodeo and if you combine that with the fact that he is undefeated at Ohio State as an underdog, I’ll take Meyer over Helfrich any day.

  1. Destiny

After losing to Virginia Tech the second week of the season in the Horseshoe, raise your hand if you thought a national championship, much less a New Year’s Day bowl game was a realistic possibility.

You’re lying.

Win or lose Monday night, it is truly remarkable what Meyer and the Buckeyes have accomplished this season, especially after losing their starting quarterback not once, but twice. The victory in East Lansing over Michigan State with J.T. Barrett and Co. gave us a sense of hope but the playoff was still a long shot. However, since the 59-0 pummeling of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game that landed the Buckeyes in the playoff, this team is clearly on a mission and will not be denied. The Buckeyes proved that destiny was on their side as a decisive underdog against Miami to claim the 2002 National Championship. Twelve years later, Ohio State will once again have the best damn team in the land.

Score Prediction: Ohio State 41, Oregon 31

Christmas Wishes in the Pac-12

This time of year for college football fans is one of excitement because of all the bowl games happening and the thoughts of what could be happening in the future for their prospective programs.

Once the National Championship comes to an end, thoughts turn to what will happen in the coming season. What kind of recruits will our team get? Is our coach leaving or being fired? Do we have adequate facilities to attract quality athletes? How will the team be affected by graduation or the NFL? All these questions get asked by alumni, coaches, administration at some point during the off-season. They are legitimate questions, but sometimes, alright, most of the time, fans and coaches have wishes for the upcoming year. The wishes can range from crazy wishes to more practical wishes for the program.

These are just some of the wishes that alumni, coaches, and anybody else associated with the programs in the Pac-12 may be wanting under their Christmas tree or for the New Year.

Colorado: The fans of the Buffaloes may have a long list of wishes. Ranging from better recruiting of football players, coaching, and finally just more wins in the win column for the program. Another wish for the program should be not being viewed as a “guaranteed win” for the opposing team. Since coming to the Pac-12, the Buffs just have not had that much success and were struggling even before making the jump from Big 12. Fans, alumni of this program don’t want the most exciting part of a Buffalo game to be when they let out Ralphie, the Buffalo, to run the length of the field. They want wins and not Buffalo chips on the field. Enough said.

Utah: They ended their 2014 season as a great jump into the 2015 season with their resounding bowl win in the Las Vegas Bowl. They dominated Colorado State 45-10 and let the rest of the Pac-12 know that they are not going to back down from anybody in 2015. A wish that Utah fans, coaches may be having is more consistent play out of their quarterback. Travis Wilson may have put himself into the starter’s role for next season, but he certainly needs to have better play next year. Another thing that Ute fans may want to see for next year is a replacement for Devontae Booker. Booker will probably end up declaring for the NFL after the year he had in the Pac-12, so they will need someone to shoulder the rushing load going into 2015. Now, if he stays, that is a huge New Year’s wish come true for everybody in Utah. I see him going to the NFL though.

Washington State: Washington State fans have a wish that may come true. A quarterback that can lead the team for the next few years and an offense that will showcase his talents. Luke Falk showed promise for the Cougs once Connor Halliday went down with a broken ankle, but is he going to be enough for Washington State to take the next step? Another wish that fans would like see is the overall effectiveness of Mike Leach and his pass happy offense. Leach is a great offensive mind, but can it work in Pullman? Can he get the type of players he needs to make the offense run like it did at Texas Tech? It’s tough recruiting out to Pullman, Washington and that is a determining factor in how successful Leach will be. All good questions, all legit wishes of Washington State fans.

Stanford: Line up and push people around. Punch them in the “face”. Be a bully on the field and impose your will on the opposition. That is the crux of Stanford football and one that their fans have grown accustomed to seeing on Saturday afternoons. However, that was not the case this past year on The Farm. Their wish is that they return to the in your face style that they didn’t exactly have this past year. In their defense, they had a lot of young players with inexperience. Through the course of the season, they gained some valuable experience and that will only serve them well going into 2015. A wish that the coaching staff may have is better play out of Kevin Hogan, their quarterback. He looked good at times, he looked down right below average at times. One wish I have for him is that he works on his mechanics. His ball seemed to have less zip on it and it seemed like it floated in the air. Maybe a Christmas gift he gets is an invitation to the Manning Academy during the summer or a personal quarterback coach. Something that will help him develop into a special quarterback.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils had a season of promise end with a thud in the past month. Losing to Oregon State and Arizona effectively killed their dream of playing for the Pac-12 Championship and a chance to be in the final four for the college football playoff. A couple of wishes for the up and coming team. One, find a replacement for Jaelen Strong, their stud wide receiver who will probably go in the first round of this year’s NFL draft. Two, be able to find a possible replacement for DJ Foster who is considering leaving early for the draft. Foster should stay in school, but at the moment is thinking of leaving. A personal wish I have for the Devils is that the defense, which had nine new starters this past season continues there growth as a unit and develops into a Pac-12 conference leader. They had games where they looked horrible, like UCLA and Oregon State and games where they looked down right tough, like Notre Dame and Utah. More consistency is needed from them to go to the next level.

California: Well, the Bears kind of came out of nowhere to surprise people in the Pac-12. Sonny Dykes came to town in 2013 with the reputation of wide open offense. A wish that alumni may have for the Bears is that they stick with one quarterback and not run the two quarterback system. I don’t think you win long term with something like that at the division one level. Jeff Goff, who did quarterback the team most of the time, but was replaced with Luke Rubenzer, a freshman from Scottsdale, Arizona to run the spread attack. Hopefully, in the upcoming year they will stay with Rubenzer, since Goff was a senior. Another wish for the Bears is that their defense plays with more of an attitude and doesn’t give up so many points to the opposition. The Christmas gift the California coaches want is a defense that makes stops and not allows Hail Mary passes at the end of games (Arizona game ring a bell?).

Oregon: You may be thinking Oregon needs wishes or more gifts under their tree? Yes, they do. Once you get to the level that the Duck program has reached, you do anything within your power to stay at that level. The big gift that Duck coaches want and their fans do as well is that Marcus Mariota somehow comes back for his senior season. Is that “pie in the sky” thinking? Absolutely, but it’s still that gift that could keep on giving for Oregon. I don’t see that happening for the Ducks, but who knows? At the end of the day, Mariota may just enjoy college that much that he returns to Eugene. Anybody other than an Oregon fan hopes the stocking is full of coal on that thought. Another wish that Oregon may want under their tree is a replacement for their All-American cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He effectively shut down half the field most games for the Ducks and let the younger cornerbacks for the Ducks gain valuable experience under his leadership. One more wish they may have is that their 2015 season is not so injury riddled. The injuries this year made people question their ability to get to the playoff. That was a certifiable question for this Duck team during the season and it showed a bit in their October loss to the Arizona Wildcats. Time will tell with the Ducks and what direction the program takes, but their Christmas wishes may be fulfilled if Oregon wins it all.

Oregon State: This is a program that has about as many wishes as any team could want in the Pac-12. What will the new coach bring to Corvallis? Who will be the new quarterback? Will the defensive and offensive line heal over the offseason? Can they ever beat Oregon again? All these wishes are on the mind of almost every Beaver fan. Not sure what wish is the biggest for the Beaver faithful, but they all want to unwrap those presents and see positive things occur. This was a down year for the Beavs and when Mike Riley left town, many people thought, “Where are we going now?”. Enter Gary Andersen, from Wisconsin. He’s done the first wish of all alumni, he won them over in the press conference. It’s going to be a year of change in Corvallis and all those wishes of the team and fans will hopefully be answered in a positive way come August 2015.

USC: The Men of Troy are looking forward to 2015 and have a wish list as long as the three year ban on scholarships was for them. Their big wish is that they land some of the best talent in the country and add that to their already stellar stash of talent. They will have all their scholarships back and they will be filling their stockings with all the five star recruits that they can get. Steve Sarkisian will also want a defense that can shut down teams more consistently. They will have to replace their All-World defensive end Leonard Williams who a certain top-10 pick in this year’s NFL draft. The defense looked awesome at times such as the Stanford game and Arizona game, but looked very pedestrian in the UCLA and Arizona State game where they couldn’t stop a ten year old boy from running through them. All their offensive players will return because there was a lot of young talent such as freshman and sophomores playing this year. They could be my pick, again, to win the South Division in the Pac-12. I do like what Sarkisian is trying to do with the offense, so their wish is to reload with enough talent to make them unstoppable.

Even though this is not the entire Pac-12, these will be teams that will be asking for a little more than others in the conference. The whole Pac-12 will be one of change next season, but with the talent that is in this conference, it’ll be a good change. The conference is headed in the right direction and will continue their rise to dominance in the year and years to come.

PAC 12 II

The Crossroads: It’s Time, Marcus Mariota

The final week of the first playoff regular season is perfection. The Top 7 teams will be in action. With the exception of TCU’s layup against Iowa, the other six will play teams ranked no lower than 16. There are a million possible outcomes. Do you really think the Top 4 are going to win and we smoothly enter the semifinals?

Since it’s The Crossroads for everyone, we’re going to examine who is facing the most pressure this week for the Top 7 teams. We’ll add in Boise State, who will cap a wild Saturday by playing for the elusive Group of Five bid at 10 p.m. on CBS. I mean, if these games don’t get you excited, why are you watching college football? And why the heck are you reading this?

Alabama’s secondary

Yes, the Alabama offense was incredible in the Iron Bowl. Yes, the defense eventually made stops. And yes, the game was over early in the fourth quarter. That doesn’t change the fact Auburn had everything rolling for three quarters and if not for red zone troubles in the first half, may have sprinted out to a big enough lead to hold on.

The main culprit? A secondary that kept getting beat. They didn’t play poorly at times but Auburn wide receivers kept making big play after big play. The Tide is heavily favored to dispatch Missouri in the Georgia Dome Saturday afternoon but so was Tennessee….and so was Texas A&M….and so was Arkansas. Missouri hasn’t gotten an ounce of respect for a month straight yet they won’t lose.

If Missouri has any chance, they will have to follow their game plan in last year’s SEC Title Game – namely, through the ball deep and test the secondary. It is likely Alabama’s only weakness. It is definitely Missouri’s only chance

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota

If you’ve been reading me this year, you know I have not boarded the Mariota for Heisman bandwagon. He may be the best quarterback in the country and I would love to see him piloting my Jets next year on Sundays. But I still can’t get the image of him being stripped to end the Arizona game out of my head.

Lo and behold, he gets his revenge game. If Mariota puts up the type of numbers that he has since that game, then Oregon wins the Pac-12, rolls into Pasadena on New Year’s Day and Mariota wins the Heisman in a landslide. But what if he doesn’t? Arizona, for whatever reason, has completely and totally owned Mariota the past two years. What if they do it again?

Simply put, everything is on the line for Mariota with potentially no in-between. With a loss, the Ducks certainly won’t make the playoff. With a loss – depending on Melvin Gordon’s performance later that night – he could lose the Heisman. The Friday night spotlight will be shining bright on Mariota. If he is as good as he has looked for the past six weeks, it shouldn’t be a problem.

TCU coach Gary Patterson

This is the type of game a coach dreads. TCU is a massive favorite over hopelessly overmatched Iowa State. They have just been moved to #3 in the playoff rankings. They do what they are supposed to do and they move on to the semifinals.

To assume they will is to ignore so much recent history. Remember USC gagging away a title game slot in 2006 to a mediocre UCLA team? Remember West Virginia losing at home, beyond all rational thought, to a 4-7 Pitt team with everything on the line in 2007? Or how about just last week when Baylor needed to escape against Texas Tech or the week before when Ohio State nearly stumbled at home against Indiana?

Make no mistake: TCU should annihilate Iowa State. The problem is that they have to. Will the Kansas escape serve as motivation? Or did they put too much into last week’s beatdown of Texas? If the game is close – only Gary Patterson will be blamed.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston

Obviously, right? He just played the worst game of his career and Florida State escpaed yet again. Whenever the Seminoles play, all the focus is on Jameis. It’s crazy to think he has never lost as a starting quarterback in college yet they feel incredibly vulnerable.

Is this the week it finally ends? If Florida State falls behind, Georgia Tech will gladly deflate the football and run til the clock hits zero. Jameis is the leader of this team but we have rarely seen him at his best in 2014. Have all the distractions, allegations and investigations finally caught up with him?

Ohio State’s front seven

If I’m Urban Meyer, I am petrified and it has nothing to do with Cardale Jones at quarterback. As impressive as J.T. Barrett has been, it feels like the Ohio State offense could thrive with anyone under center. After they figured out the protection issues after the Virginia Tech game, the offense has been quite literally unstoppable. Wisconsin is not a great defensive team. There is no reason to think Ohio State won’t score at least 28 points.

The problem is how many they give up. Michigan – not known for its offensive prowess – ran for 121 yards. The week prior, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman ran for 228 yards and 3 TDs.  The week before that, Minnesota’s David Cobb ran for 145 yards and 3 TDs. If you ask me, that’s a giant red flag and a bad trend going into a game against the nation’s best running back in Melvin Gordon. But that’s just me.

Baylor coach Art Briles

Baylor has had a knack over the past two years of losing at the most inopportune time. The Oklahoma State game. The Fiesta Bowl. The road trip to West Virginia. Baylor’s last three losses have all come as big favorites. The difference Saturday night is they get Kansas State at home with a massive ESPN spotlight to make a final push to show the committee why the deserve a Top 4 spot.

If you had to ask me to choose between Art Briles and Bill Snyder to win one game, I’d choose the latter every time. Can Briles prove me wrong and finally win the big one?

Arizona LB Scooby Wright

In fairness, I should put the entire Arizona defense here because their ability to confuse and frustrate the Ducks the past two years has been unmatched. But Wright is the flash point. He’s the guy who stripped Mariota. He’s the guy that is the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year and probably the best defender in the nation.

If Arizona wants to pull off a remarkable hat trick of Oregon wins, Wright has to play another spectacular game.

Boise State QB Grant Hedrick

Of all the teams playing important games – and that includes TCU – no team should win as easily as Boise State. The Broncos host 6-6 Fresno State and a win sends them to the Fiesta Bowl. In RB Jay Ajayi, the Broncos could run the ball 50 times and win easy. Indeed, there is only one way the Broncos lose – if Grant Hedrick reverts to early-season form and plays poorly. That’s it. As long as Hedrick plays even close to his recent form, it will be a cakewalk. But if he doesn’t…

The Selection Committee

They have appeared to be unafraid of criticism. They have stuck to their buzzwords like game control and important metrics like strength of schedule. They have the undefeated, defending national champion ranked #4. They don’t seem to care about the TCU/Baylor head-to-head matchup.

When the semifinals are announced Sunday afternoon, the committee’s decision will be heavily scrutinized. Will they stick to their guns? Will they be decisive? Will they limit the controversy or make it worse?

The calls for an 8-team playoff have already begun – some, including myself, believe a 16-team playoff is inevitable. How this first year plays out will determine whether the current four-team iteration is here to stay or a short-time interloper.

The College Quickie: Conference Championships

As the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers were being consumed, college football was inching closer to clarity. Whatever clarity is this year. The four major conferences now have their conference championship games set. The Pac 12 will kick the weekend off on Friday night and the Big Ten will finish us off Saturday night.

THE PAC 12

Number 8 Arizona plays number 3 Oregon for the second time this year. In their first meeting this year, Arizona came out on top 31-24. There was the proverbial asterisk placed next to the Wildcat’s win since Oregon was missing some of their offensive lineman. Well, I see your asterisk and raise you ANOTHER asterisk. Arizona beat the Ducks last year as well. The score of that game being 42-16.

Arizona has proven that it can play with Oregon and will not be intimidated. And there is more on the line this year than there has ever been as the winner should find themselves in the inaugural college football playoff.

THE SEC

Number 1 Alabama squares off with number 14 Missouri. It has been 2 years since Alabama appeared in the championship game and this is a back-to-back appearance for Missouri. For Alabama, it is all on the line. Win and they lock up the number 1 seed in the playoff. Lose and anything is possible. Would a loss knock the Crimson Tide out of the top 4? Or would the committee simply slide them down to number 4? As for Missouri and what they are playing for? The Tigers have a chance to win their first conference championship since the 1969 Big 8 title. But, unlike Alabama, a playoff birth is an extreme long shot.

THE ACC

Number 2 Florida St. takes on number 12 Georgia Tech. I’ll be honest, i’ve fallen into the @damiEnbowman mindset. We know how this ends and i’m not interested. But in the interest of The College Quickie, i’ll say a few words on the matchup.

With a FSU win, and we all know they will win, they stay put in the playoff. A loss drops them from the top 4, but, again, we all know that is not happening. And, just to be fair, if Georgia Tech wins they probably just solidify their spot in the Orange Bowl.

THE BIG TEN

Number 6 Ohio St. against number 11 Wisconsin. I’m starting to see a pattern here. Three out of four of these games are between a team positioning itself for the final 4 and a team simply trying to improve its bowl game slot.

Ohio St just can’t catch a good break this season. First they lose Braxton Miller to injury and now JT Barrett is done for the year. Ohio St is coming close to Florida St territory for me. The Buckeyes let inferior teams hang around and then find a way to win. What makes this more impressive for Ohio St is that they seem to win in impressive fashion. And once Barrett shook off the jitters against the Fighting Beamers, it seems it doesn’t matter who Urban Meyer’s quarterback is.

PREDICTIONS

If you are looking for predictions, you’ll have to stay tuned to the podcasts this week and our conference and team specific writers. I’m offering a quick primer for each game. Predictions will come later.

*Feature image courtesy of firenicksaban.com (yes, that site really does exist)

Week 14’s Six Best Teams for College Football

The College Football Playoff is almost here. It is hard to believe that another college football season is almost gone. If this season plays out like most of the BCS seasons, then the rule will be that whatever we think about who is going to play in the Championship entering rivalry week will be wrong by the time the last conference championship game is played. This week I was asked to give my Top 6 teams. I wanted to give more than rankings but give the reasons behind my rankings. Below is my Top 6 and the reasons why I ranked them the way that I did. I do have two SEC West teams in my Top 4. The SEC West just completed a 28-0 run against non-conference opponents and with little exception trounced their Eastern equivalents.

1. Alabama — I’m not completely convinced the Tide can run the tables or even beat Auburn but out of the top teams, they do seem to be the most complete. The offense is a bit Jekyll and Hyde with their best showings coming at home but the defense, after a shaky start, is starting to look reminiscent of Saban’s national championship defenses. If Alabama advances, their defense will be put to the test as many of the top teams can score and score quickly.

2. Oregon — Mariotta is man among boys in terms of his quarterbacking ability. It’s hard to believe that we entered this season with mumblings about Mark Helfrich and his ability to keep Oregon up to Chip Kelly standards. Oregon’s early October loss to Arizona, their second loss to Arizona in two seasons, seem to validate those concerns. Since that game the closest anyone has come to beating Oregon is UCLA and they lost by twelve. Now if Helfrich can avoid one Kelly trait and that is Oregon shooting itself in the foot in November, Oregon could be the team to beat in the playoffs.

3. FSU — it’s amazing how the college football playoff changes perceptions. If this were last year, most of us would be ranking Florida State number one. They are the last undefeated Power 5 team left, yet the Committee raises points that we notice but have typically ignored in the past. This is a team that seems to be flirting with disaster. Each week Florida State finds a way to escape the executioner. Last week was a narrow victory over Boston College. Off field issues aside, there is no quarterback in the nation I would rather have in quarters three and four than Jameis Winston. FSU will have a much harder time surviving the next two weeks than they should for an undefeated Power 5 team. Florida upsetting Fllorida State with a lame duck Will Muschamp would be repeating history when Ron Zook did so in his last regular season game as the head man of the Gators. If Winston can survive the Gators, surprising Georgia Tech awaits them in the ACC Championship game.

4. Mississippi State — Of course this is where it gets tricky. I can pretty much swap Mississippi State, TCU and Baylor. All three teams are so similar in their resumes. Here is why State gets the nod at #4. They lost to #1 by five points in #1’s home stadium. Baylor lost to an unranked West Virginia. TCU lost to Baylor which is at best, the #5 ranked team and in the Committee’s eyes, the #7 ranked team. I’m left with a logic puzzle. In terms of losses Mississippi State’s was the best and their schedules with TCU and Baylor are all roughly equivalent in terms of overall strength. As for Mississippi State, Alabama poked some holes in what had been an otherwise great looking team. In shutting down the running game, including Dak Prescott’s, Mississippi State becomes average and they have little ability to come back. In Mississippi State’s final drive against Alabama, they took over three minutes to get down the field because they were forced to rely on the run. However, not many teams have the ability to put the Bulldogs in a hole.

5. Baylor — I have a harder time punishing the Bears for their week schedule when they beat TCU. Yes I believe that TCU has a better resume than Baylor and all of that would count if Baylor hadn’t beaten TCU in a head to head matchup. To say that TCU has played a tougher schedule and that somehow equates to wiping away the Bears’ win over the Horned Frogs is not something that I can do. Let the Committee make the statement in the rankings. Baylor made their statement on the field. As for Baylor, it is the #1 scoring offense in the country. Baylor is #4 in overall passing yards. Baylor can score and score quickly. The knock on Baylor is their defense but their points allowed defense actually ranks in the Top 25 and they have held five opponents to less than fourteen points. Secondary units beware!

6. TCU — First, why TCU and not Ohio State. I have been very impressed with Ohio State since the loss against Virginia Tech and yes, I think Ohio State can be forgiven for their loss as there were extenuatiing circumstances in breaking in a new quarterback in J. T. Barrett. However, Ohio State also struggled to beat Penn State, they do have victories over two Top 25 teams in Michigan State and Minnesota, however TCU has wins over three Top 25 teams including a much more impressive win over that same Minnesota. This is why TCU grabs #6 away from Meyer’s Buckeyes. As for TCU, they have shown that they can beat big teams and beat them on a big stage. They can also light up the scoreboard with the best of them as poor Texas Tech found out when TCU dropped 82 points on them. Their work isn’t done though as TCU has to visit the much improved Longhorns this week.