Tag Archives: USC

Non-Schedule Games Important for Notre Dame’s Title Hopes

By now, Notre Dame fans know which games are most critical to the Irish’s hopes of running the regular season table this fall. Michigan State, Stanford, Miami, and Southern California are the marquee matchups featured on the 2016 docket for the Irish. If the Irish take care of business in these games, there will not be much debate about their place in the College Football Playoff picture.

However, should the Irish stumble along the way, style points will be at a premium. A few games not featuring a team in all-gold helmets will play a large part in the Irish’s ability to gain style points.

September 3rd – USC Trojans vs. Alabama Crimson Tide

The first week of the season features perhaps the most important game of the year in terms of Notre Dame’s strength of schedule. This matchup between the Trojans and Crimson Tide will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. USC is projected to finish at or near the top of the Pac-12, along with fellow Notre Dame opponent, Stanford. A win for the Trojans would validate the Pac-12 and deliver a blow to the SEC. This would be huge for the Irish, who have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves against Pac-12 opponents, but lack a matchup against the SEC. At season’s end, a debate between Notre Dame and Alabama for playoff positioning could be settled by how each performs against a common opponent.

October 29th – Michigan at Michigan State

On the day Notre Dame hosts the Miami Hurricanes at Notre Dame Stadium, there is another major midwest college football game that has plenty of bearing on Notre Dame’s path to the playoff. With Ohio State reloading after losing numerous starters, the Wolverines and Spartans figure to be the two teams contending for a spot in the Big Ten title game. Outside of Michigan State, Michigan and Notre Dame have no common opponents. In fact, Notre Dame’s game against Michigan State is the only time the Irish will face a Big Ten opponent this season. For this reason, Michigan State dominating the Big Ten would once again be beneficial for the Irish.

November 25th – TCU at Texas

Despite losing Josh Doctson and Trevone Boykin to the NFL, the TCU Horned Frogs still figure to be a contender for the always wide-open Big 12. This game, which takes place the day after Thanksgiving, is a potential trap game for the Horned Frogs. If Notre Dame takes care of Texas in the first game of the season and the Longhorns can steal a late-season game against the Horned Frogs, the Irish will certainly have a decided tiebreaker against teams from the Big 12. Much like the situation with Michigan State, Notre Dame’s only game against a Big 12 opponent comes against Texas. If Charlie Strong’s team can surprise college football experts, Notre Dame benefits.


Other games that should gain considerable notice from Irish fans include Florida State at Miami (October 8th) and Ohio State at Michigan State (November 19th). With a pseudo-Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, Notre Dame should have plenty of opportunities to demonstrate its worth against ACC opponents. If Urban Meyer’s Ohio State team can pick up where it left off last season, however, the matchup with the Spartans in East Lansing is arguably more important than the aforementioned Michigan – Michigan State matchup.

Whatever the case, Notre Dame has plenty of opportunities to add wins against opponents from many of the Power 5 conferences to their resume. If the Irish take care of business at home (with the exception of the game against USC, all of their marquee matchups take place in South Bend), Notre Dame just may find its way into the College Football Playoff for the first time since its inception.

Featured image is courtesy of wikipedia.com. 

Way-Too-Early Schedule Game: Notre Dame Edition

Well, it’s that time of the year. Summer is upon us and it’s almost okay to start dreaming of the college football season. Yes, it is only June, and still way too early for a legitimate top 25 and too early to count anyone out – or in, for that matter – of the national championship race.

Where does that leave us, you ask? I think it puts us in the perfect place to play everyone’s favorite game, the schedule game.

Over the course of this column I’m going to take a look at each of the 12 opponents Notre Dame will be facing during the 2016 regular season, give a quick breakdown and background information, and make a “way-too-early” pick on the game. Sound simple enough? Good!

Week 1 at Texas – Sunday, September 4 – Austin, TX

In a rematch of last season’s opener, Notre Dame will travel to the University of Texas to take on the Longhorns to begin the season. Last year, the Irish smoked Charlie Strong’s squad 38-3 in South Bend. Just as there was last year for Texas, there is a quarterback competition heading into camp. The difference between Notre Dame’s QB battle and Texas’ is the talent level. The pressure is building on Strong at Texas, and I don’t expect the Notre Dame game to help ease any of it.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Texas 17

Week 2 vs Nevada – Saturday, September 10 – South Bend, IN

Unlike last year, the Irish won’t open up the home portion of their schedule with a marquee opponent. While that isn’t meant to be a knock on the Wolf Pack, it’s the truth. Nevada projects to be a borderline bowl team this season and Notre Dame has higher aspirations than that level. The strength of the Wolf Pack will be their offense, specifically the backfield made up of Penn State transfer Akeel Lynch and James Butler. Nevada very may well have a nice season, but I doubt that this game is one of their highlights.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 42 – Nevada 20

Week 3 vs Michigan State – Saturday, September 17 – South Bend, IN

The third week of the season may be Notre Dame’s first real test. Michigan State is coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance and the Spartans have won two out of the last three Big Ten titles. Yes, last year took a lucky bounce at the Big House and a sick Zeke Elliott at The Shoe to get their two biggest wins, they were wins nonetheless. Sparty should be heading into 2016 ranked in the top 25. It will certainly be interesting to see who replaces Connor Cook under center for the Spartans. MSU will open the season with Furman at home followed by a bye week before their trip to South Bend. A night game at Notre Dame Stadium will be the first real test for this young team.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 27 – Michigan State 20

Week 4 vs Duke – Saturday, September 24 – South Bend, IN

While the Blue Devils are traditionally known for their success on the hardwood, they have been much improved on the gridiron lately as well. The Blue Devils are coming off a win in last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl, however their team is not without its share of question marks. The biggest one of these may be the quarterback position. Last year the offense was driven by Thomas Sirk. Sirk was due to return to the helm this season, however he ruptured his Achilles for the second time during offseason conditioning drills in February. It is unknown if Sirk will be back and how effective he will be. If he is unable to play look for Parker Boehme to fill in. Just like their brothers on the hardwood, I think the Blue Devils will struggle with Notre Dame on the gridiron.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 38 – Duke 17

Week 5 at Syracuse – Saturday, October 1 – East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)

Syracuse is entering a new era with Dino Babers taking over as head coach of the Orangemen. This season looks as if it is going to be a rebuilding year for Cuse, and a win against Notre Dame is highly unlikely. It would be surprising to see Syracuse in a bowl game, with many schedule predictions having them at or around four total wins. Notre Dame certainly shouldn’t be one of them.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Syracuse 3

Week 6 at North Carolina State – Saturday, October 8 – Raleigh, NC

For the second time in the first six weeks the Irish will be taking on the Wolfpack, although this breed is based in Raleigh, NC. NC State has the task of replacing Jacoby Brissett who graduated last year. Last season, the Wolfpack scored 33.2 points per game with Brissett in control. I would look for that number to drop a little bit, although I do think new offensive coordinatior Eliah Drinkwitz will do a good job keeping that number around 30. This is a tough spot for Notre Dame. The Irish haven’t recently played that well on the road (cough Virginia 2015 cough) and the Irish could be caught looking ahead to Stanford. I think this game is much closer and tougher than people think.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 31 – NC State 28

Week 7 vs Stanford – Saturday, October 15 – South Bend, IN

Stanford-Notre Dame has quickly become one of my favorite rivalry games in college football. Since the rain-soaked overtime classic in 2012 this series has produced some extremely memorable games, including last year’s Stanford victory at the end of the regular season on a last second field goal. I think this game could certainly be another classic in this rivalry. If Stanford figures out how to replace departed QB Kevin Hogan in the first six weeks, then I see no reason why this shouldn’t be a great game.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Stanford 17

Week 8 – BYE

They won’t win, they won’t lose. Not much to see here.

Week 9 vs Miami – Saturday, October 29 – South Bend, IN

This game hasn’t gotten much run yet, but I definitely think that this will be one of the best games on Notre Dame’s schedule. I think Miami is set to return to a product similar to their glory years, with Mark Richt at the helm. This is a tremendous opportunity to not only kick-start that resurgence for the Canes, but also to reignite the rivalry between Notre Dame and The U. Junior QB Brad Kaaya is one of the more underrated signal callers in the country. This is a game Notre Dame very well could lose. The biggest thing I think they have in their favor is that they are coming off the bye week. Truthfully, I think this one could go either way, and is a start to bringing back one of college football’s most missed rivalries.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Miami 20

Week 10 at Navy – Saturday, November 5 – Jacksonville, FL (EverBank Field)

Going from one rivalry that college football misses to one of my absolute favorites. Obviously the reasoning for this rivalry are more for off-the-field traditions rather than the competitive play on the field, but the respect shown between Notre Dame and Navy is one of my favorite things to witness. This year the game shouldn’t be as close as it has been in recent years. Navy lost Keenan Reynolds to graduation and he will arguably be the program’s biggest loss since Roger Staubach. Notre Dame shouldn’t have any problem with the Midshipmen.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 34 – Navy 14

Week 11 vs Army – Saturday, November 12 – San Antonio, TX (Alamodome) SHAMROCK SERIES

I don’t think that this game will be very competitive. Truthfully, I think that the most interesting part of this will be seeing how Notre Dame looks in their yet-to-be-released alternate uniforms. The Irish have yet to lose a Shamrock Series game, and I would be stunned if this is the first.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 41 – Army 9

Week 12 vs Virginia Tech – Saturday, November 19 – South Bend, IN

What does life after Frank Beamer look like for the Hokies? By this point in the season we will know the answer to that. Justin Fuente is in to replace Beamer as head coach. Fresh off coaching first round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch at Memphis, Fuente will have his work cut out for him in deciding between Brenden Motley, Jerod Evans, and Dwayne Lawson to run the offense. Evans is a junior college transfer and many expect him to win the job. I think this is a game that Notre Dame should win, but it is one I could see them looking past with the date with USC the following week.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 28 – VT 27

Week 13 at Southern Cal – Saturday, November 26 – Los Angeles, CA

If all goes according to my predictions (it likely won’t), Notre Dame will be entering this showdown in LA unbeaten, just like in 2012. That being said, I don’t think that this matchup turns out the same as it did in Brian Kelly’s third year on campus. In my opinion, USC is one of the most underrated teams in the country and this game will ultimately decide which of these teams heads to the final four and which doesn’t. I give a slight edge to Southern Cal at home, but I feel as if this one truly is a toss up.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Southern Cal 24 – Notre Dame 21

I think Notre Dame will be very good this year and on the cusp of playoff contention once again. There are obviously a few games I think could be trap games as well as a few games I think are going to be toss ups. I could be right, I could be wrong, I guess we will find out in November how I did.

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.

Ohio State Title Defense in Hands of Florida, USC

With Clemson, Alabama and Stanford just hours away from kicking off their respective championship games, Ohio State still has a glimmer of hope to be included as one of the four teams selected into the College Football Playoff. However, the Buckeyes will need a minimum of two of the three teams mentioned above to suffer startling defeats.

It’s pretty safe to say that Oklahoma has already assured themselves of a playoff berth, courtesy of blowout victory at Bedlam over rival Oklahoma State to claim the “Big 12 Championship.” The winner of Michigan State-Iowa in the Big Ten Championship will be rewarded with a trip to the playoff, which leaves two spots. The SEC Championship will be decided prior to the kickoffs of the PAC-12, ACC and Big Ten title games respectively, and should Alabama defeat Florida like we know they should, the Buckeyes can pretty much start packing for Glendale or Pasadena (not a bad consolation). Sure, USC and North Carolina have a remote chance to claim conference championships but the Clemson-North Carolina matchup could easily be considered a play-in-game, much like the Big Ten title game.

Ohio State will certainly be in business should Alabama begin the championship festivities with a loss. I still believe North Carolina, even being slated at No. 10 in the current CFB Playoff rankings, has the edge over the Buckeyes as a potential conference champion. That leaves USC-Stanford and those men of Troy must take down the Cardinal. A Stanford victory likely leapfrogs the two-loss Cardinal ahead of the Buckeyes. In other words, it’s Florida, USC or no title defense for the Buckeyes.

Should the necessary chaos give Ohio State a second-consecutive playoff appearance and a chance to repeat as national champions, fantastic. The Buckeyes are arguably the most talented team in the field and may have finally flipped the switch with a dominating performance over that team up north. However, a trip to Pasadena could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for this group of Buckeyes. I mean, it’s still the damn Rose Bowl. Now, will I be rooting like hell for Ohio State to find a way into that playoff? Of course. I just don’t feel a 42-13 pummeling of an over-achieving Michigan team means that the Buckeyes are all of a sudden back to the level we expected prior to the start of the season. With that said, the Bucks saved their best performance for the most important game of the season. The problem is, a week before, the Buckeyes lost the most important game of the season in an inexplicable fashion on their home field. Ohio State may be worthy of a playoff spot as one of the four best teams in America, but they certainly don’t deserve one.

A failure to repeat with the amount of returning starters from last year’s championship team would be considered a disappointing season by many, including myself. But after the Michigan State debacle, consecutive victories over Michigan and potentially in the Rose Bowl would be a nice conclusion to the season and outweigh a one-and-done in the playoff.

There simply is no shame in playing in a Rose or Fiesta Bowl following a loss this late in the season. Teams like Oklahoma and the Michigan State-Iowa victor may want to see chalk prevail on Saturday. Who wants to run into the big, bad defending champ this time of year? Regardless, whether Ohio State makes it into the playoff or not, it’s time to finish a once-disappointing season strong. Let the chaos begin.

Cal Suffering Deadly Bout of Dejavu

At this very moment, I’m trying with all my earthly might not to go absolutely, positively bananas about the slide the California Golden Bears are enduring.  I mean, how can this happen again? What type of cosmic karma are we dealing with where Cal is in the very same predicament they were in exactly one year ago? If you’re a bit fuzzy on the subject, allow me to refresh your memory.  Cal opened the 2014 season winning four of their first five games. It should have been five straight except for that lucky (explicative) Hail Mary at the end of the Arizona game. But, I digress. For a brief moment in time, Cal was atop the Pac 12 North division. It seemed as if Coach Sonny Dykes had his squad primed for success. Then “the fall” happened. Losers of  six of their final seven games, Cal once again missed bowl contention, finishing the season 5-7; albeit a better record than 2013’s (1-11) season. But that’s not the point here. No moral victories!

Fast forward to the 2015 season- a familiar scenario. Cal opens up winning their first five games and again, gaining some recognition around the land; and on top of that, earing national ranking. Seemingly similar storylines, right? A little too similar if you ask me. Of course, you know what follows. A (5-4) Cal team is again teetering on the brink of self-destruction yet again. Oh wait, it gets better. Well, in a good way. Kind of. Last year at this time, Cal snapped their 3-game losing streak to Oregon State. This year, Cal has the opportunity to snap their 4-game losing streak to…you guessed it, Oregon State. With a win this Saturday, Cal will have earned their 6th victory of the season, making them eligible for a bowl game; their first appearance since 2011.

This season, by far, has been the ultimate head scratcher. Cal is an immensely talented football team. Yes, TEAM. Offensively, Cal ranks near the top of passing yardage per game. Their rushing attack, although without (Daniel) Lasco, has been steady, if not an improvement with Khalfani Muhammad and Vic Enwere rotating in the backfield. Defensively, Cal has made tremendous strides. So much so, the much maligned secondary of years past had the audacity to lead the county in interceptions this season.  What more can you ask for? Granted, Cal’s opening schedule has been quite generous this year; as well as last year’s. I would think this as a great confidence builder. Something the entire team could use as fuel to propel them through the season. But I guess that’s where it falls short. Maybe their schedule was too generous. It almost lulled them into a false state of being. Maybe Cal isn’t that good after all. Statistically I find that hard to believe. They have all the talent possible to be a legitimate contender in the Pac 12. This reminds of me Rocky III. Remember when Rocky beat Apollo for the title and Rocky had a string of title defenses? He won all of them handily. But, when he went up against Mr. T-the first time, he got his block knocked off. Maybe Cal is only is much akin to the pre ‘Mr. T’ Rocky; good, but not a killer.

I hate that I’m having these types of thoughts swirling in my head. I so desperately want to believe otherwise. Maybe this is just a fluke. Come Saturday, the Golden Bears will wake from their slumber and lay waste to anything in their paths. That’s what I’m hoping at least. Or, another likely possible outcome: the slide continues and the Bears curl up and take a beating the final 3 weeks of the season; repeating what would be considered the equivalent of finding a four-leaf clover on the lapel of Elvis Presley while dining with a sasquatch.  Yeah, it’s that unreal.

For the remaining 3 weeks of the season, I will try to have the utmost faith in Cal’s chances for earning a 6th or possibly a 7th win of the season.  This isn’t an impossible feat by no stretch of the imagination. However, I’m haunted by the prospect that the wrong Cal team will show up. Cal suffered only 2 ugly losses (40-24 to UCLA and 44-28 to Oregon). Despite ugly performances, I thought Cal played well against Utah and USC. Both games were winnable. But, the difference in those games was that Cal had a killer instinct. They played unafraid. It’s like fighting the school bully at 3:15 in the afternoon and knowing you’re going to get your ass kicked, but you go down swinging. Yeah, you lost, but respect was won.

In the end, I still believe in Cal. I think they’ll show up with a sense of urgency like no other. This may potentially be the final year of Jared Goff’s storied career as well as the slew of offensive talent surrounding him. Not to mention, the outcome of this season may have a direct impact on the tenure of coach Sonny Dykes. I don’t think they’ll be calling for his job, but I wouldn’t rule out his seat being a little warmer. All in all, the prescription, antidote, or secret serum to cure this ill is a win. A simple win. As they say in sports,” winning cures everything.” Somebody page the good doctor; we’re going to need a visit.

Arizona Needed This Cardinals Redemption

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

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

A Solemn Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Sensational Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Seeking Treatment, Sarkisian Will Get Answers to Questions About Himself

One could print volumes upon volumes of encyclopedias, all with very small print, of all of the things I can admit that I don’t know.  Frankly, there are some things that I should understand more, but whether or not USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian has a “problem” with drug or alcohol abuse is not one of them.

Sure, the de facto CEO of Los Angeles’s top football brand, albeit on the amateur level, should be embarrassed, very embarrassed by his behavior at a donor function on August 22nd.  He used foul language and stated very bluntly that a few of the Trojans bigger rivals “sucked”.  Sarkisian later apologized for his boorish behavior and attributed the transgression to mixing medication and booze.

On Monday, news broke of USC’s (perhaps) new policy of banning liquor and spirits in the locker room on game days, a policy that wasn’t met with resistance, but curiosity.  I’d always imagined, back in the Pete Carroll days, that most things about the USC program were probably fun.  I never pictured it as a Dave & Buster’s with showers and lockers.  We’d learn on Tuesday that it was more along the lines of the coaches keeping a bottle of scotch in a desk drawer to celebrate big wins.

Foul language in the presence of boosters isn’t that big of a deal.  Didn’t we just see Urban Meyer tell a ballroom full of Buckeye faithful that they were going to “beat the shit out of Michigan” just a few years ago?  If I recall, those words were met by thunderous applause without a lick of criticism.  Substance abuse, and I’m not saying that’s the landscape in Troy with their head coach, doesn’t have such a coach-friendly precedent.

Just ask Larry Eustachy and Gary Moeller.

To be honest, I feel this incident is going to blow over.  I heard on local radio in Phoenix today, that Todd Graham, Jim Mora, and others will use this for negative recruiting against the USC program, but if it isn’t one thing, it’s another in that realm.  USC Athletic Director Pat Haden has some experience with this; it wasn’t long ago that he was suspending his basketball coach at the Pac-12 tournament for a drunken incident with University of Arizona (where Kevin O’Neill served as the interim head coach before getting the nod at USC) boosters, but don’t expect him to follow suit with Sarkisian.

sark2Though if this remains an isolated incident, you can file it under ‘no big deal’, there is something that resonates with me.  He was asked if he had a drinking problem, and responded, “I don’t believe so, but I’m going to find that out.  I’m going to treatment.”

Good for him.  He added some comments, per Stewart Mandel at Fox Sports, that might have been an attempt to mitigate his actions, about mixing meds and drinks, but ultimately acknowledged how irresponsible he acted on Saturday night.  Now, I happen to know, not first hand, that some combinations, like Tanqueray and Allegra, can lead to blackout drunkenness and unwanted bowel movements while clothed.  I know we’ve reached a point in society where physicians warnings are often taken with a grain of salt, but they’re very accurate when they tell us this should not be taken with alcohol.

Now, I know that people who have never felt their drinking has been out of control might have a tough time understanding how someone could not know if they have a problem.  It’s almost as if, if you have to ask, you definitely have a problem.  In a large percentage of cases, and I’ve conducted no study of my own, they’re probably right about that, but some people just need to hit the brakes.

About 11 years ago, I had to hit the brakes, and it was almost just to make sure they still worked.  I was burning the candle at both ends, working two jobs and partying my ass off when I wasn’t at either of them.  The end result, an inebriated mess of a 26 year-old, bawling his eyes out after his friends pulled him out of a busy street to thwart an idiotic suicide attempt.

When I came to, the police were escorting me to the county hospital.  I blew a .32 (that’s 4 times the legal limit to drive, which I wasn’t doing on that night) a few hours after my last drink.  I couldn’t provide an honest answer, as to why I wanted to die, nor could I recall getting to that place.  I was released a few hours later, and instead of taking a 3-hour nap before the Monday morning grind, I decided to call the fight.  I’d like to note that energy drinks also mix poorly with alcohol, in that experience and at other times.

Deep inside, I think I knew I didn’t have a problem, but the evidence against that claim was pretty damning.  It took me a few years of sobriety to learn enough about myself to know that I was misbehaving, not that I was diseased or POWERLESS over the sauce.  There’s a big book and a world-wide organization dedicated to those who are, and they need it.

Looking back, I understand that I was an outlier.  That pattern of behavior (there were similar incidents that did not end as poorly for me) was unacceptable.  Not only would I have lost my job, which was my biggest concern back in 2004, I’d have lost my life, and I can say it is a wonderful life.  Now, I can tell you that maybe I didn’t need to dedicate myself to sobriety in the manner that I did, but I can honestly say erring on the side of caution did not negatively influence my life in any way.

As far as Coach Sarkisian is concerned, what’s he done to this point, other than humiliate himself in front of a room of friendlies, and ultimately for a not-so-friendly court of public opinion.  Ignoring the potential indirect fallout in his now-dry locker room or on the field in 2015, this basically amounts to a victimless crime, right now.  He understands he has to right the ship, and committing to not drinking at all during the season, he has taken the first step.

If he wants to explore who he is and find out what he is, I commend the decision.  I don’t know what he’s going to learn, and without speaking to him, I’d say it’s a good bet he doesn’t either.  In the present, it’s safe to assume this guy doesn’t need a lock and key rehab facility, but by seeking treatment, he shows us his devotion to getting right, even if he’s just getting right with Steve Sarkisian.

None of us have all of the answers, even to questions about who we really are.

Sarkisian Apologizes for “Inappropriate” Behavior

Steve Sarkisian addressed the media on Tuesday concerning his “inappropriate” behavior at a USC donor event last Saturday.  The head coach issued a standard apology and fielded some strange questions from reporters.

You’ve heard the ‘public sports figure’ apology countless times before.  The question and answer portion of the press conference got a little odd, though.

There were unnecessarily personal questions about specifically what medication Sarkisian was referring to in his statement.  Rightfully, he declined to disclose that information.

When asked if he had a drinking problem, Sarkisian said, “No, I don’t believe so, but through Pat [Haden] and the University, I’m going to find that out.”

“I don’t know if I even need rehab,” Sarkisian said.  “That’s part of the process, and I credit Pat Haden for this, that he has put things in place for me to have meetings to figure that out.”

He was quick to “swear off” drinking for the rest of the season, and clarified that while there was never any alcohol in the players’ locker room, it will now be completely banned from all USC football facilities.

In a humoring punishment, the USC players had their coach do a set of down-ups, just like they would have to for breaking rules.

I’m sure if anyone can empathize with Sarkisian for his minor slipup, it’s a group of college kids.

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!

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