Tag Archives: Washington State Cougars

Shame on Your Weak Week 12 Schedule, SEC

Shame on you, for real.

No, not you, Ohio State. I don’t think you were looking ahead, to the last game on your schedule. You were dealing with a typically tough conference rival in their house. You won the game, and that’s all we needed to see.

No, not you, Colorado. What a fantastic season you’ve had. However, let’s not get it twisted. Storming the field has lost all meaning, if you’re motivated by the “lifetime achievement award” type season. Taking down Washington State may have been your best home win, but that was hardly a moment of goal post uprooting.

Kansas, you should be ashamed of a lot of things, but the pandemonium in Lawrence makes sense to me. It shouldn’t have been the second trespassing incident on that turf this season. It shouldn’t have been the Jayhawks’ first win in 24 tries versus FBS competition. I sincerely hope Saturday’s win over Texas doesn’t end up being the backdrop for Charlie Strong’s Final Act as head coach at Texas. Standby on that.

The SEC-Southern Conference Challenge

Shame on you, Alabama. For the record, I don’t care to see any of the game’s traditional juggernauts play a televised game against a scout team any time of year, but when it happens in Week 12, the exhibition adds insult to injury. I’m not mad that Tennessee-Chattanooga led the Tide, 3-0 after one, and I don’t think it should matter to anyone. Whether Alabama won that game by a single possession or earned the 28-point victory they actually etched out against their 8-2 FCS opponent, no one should have cared about that game. I hope no one of any significance did.

It’s just a shame. I think we’re being gypped. It’s become clear to me that how good you are matters more than what you’ve achieved, and if that’s the criteria, I don’t want the best of the Southeastern Conference playing anyone that isn’t Power 5 after October 1st, let alone in Week 12.

They weren’t alone in the SEC, seeking out a Southern Conference opponent from the lower tier. South Carolina hosted the Catamounts of Western Carolina. Down in Auburn, the Tigers survived Alabama A&M from the SWAC, edging the Bulldogs 55-0. What do these contests tell us?

Nothing. It’s a shame they even partake in the practice.

Florida and LSU Found a Way to Play

It’s funny how it ends up being a blessing in disguise for the conference to bail themselves out of the cluster-you-know-what created in the aftermath of Florida canceling their scheduled game with LSU on October 8th. Remember all of that finger-pointing? Did you think maybe Florida was digging their own grave?

It turns out they didn’t. They got a trip to Atlanta out of it, and they don’t have to go to Baton Rouge next year. We’ll see how much of it matters after they rendezvous with Saban and company. It may not matter much after they play Florida State. The one we don’t get, is the 2-9 Presbyterian Blue Hose. Their coach is stepping down; South Alabama gave them a whooping in Florida’s place, and faithful Gator fans were spared an essentially unwatchable game.

Rutgers Just Isn’t Good Enough For the Big Ten

Shame on the Big Ten for the latest expansion. I don’t care if anyone thinks it pisses on tradition. You stuck all of these decent teams in the Big Ten East with Maryland and Rutgers. Two teams that really could have used showcase games, a week before Ohio State and Michigan own the conference spotlight, got stuck with cake walk games–versus Maryland and Rutgers.

That’s your Big Ten Championship, if the dominoes fall a certain way next Saturday. Nebraska and Penn State, they might as well have played Youngstown State and Villanova. The chalk says Wisconsin plays Penn State, but it sure would be a shame if the winner of Ohio State-Michigan didn’t win the Big Ten Championship.

Would it be a shame to appoint our first team without a conference title in hand? I would not be ashamed to see a Buckeyes team with wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the College Football Playoff.

That would only be a shame for people that think seasons should disintegrate due to blocked field goals in hostile road environments. Shame on you, people like that.

The next few Saturdays should be a lot of fun. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get more quality from the 205 this weekend.

Photo Credit: Matthew Tosh, via Flickr

China is a Bad Match for the Pac-12

The recent business pulled from North Carolina due to a transgender law on the books brought up a question about the Pac-12. If the social justice warriors are so upset about the law in North Carolina, what about the Pac-12 doing business with China?

People get behind things that fit their own personal narrative about what is right and wrong. However, when it comes to China people see business and money, not social justice.

If you follow world politics, you know that China is one of the biggest human rights violators. China is a communist country for those of you that conveniently forget that. They also provide a ton of business for the United States. Thus, the crux of the question with China.

The Pac-12 is no different from any other entity, it is looking to expand its brand in this new global economy. While I am all for the Pac-12 expanding its brand and making money,  doing it in China is a bad idea.

I have many questions about this expansion of brand.

What is the end game of these dealings in China? How much is the league spending on this Asian adventure? Do the human rights violations mean anything to anybody?

It is something that does confuse me.

Larry Scott calls this branding expansion a Global Initiative.

“It’s about international brand building, engagement and relationship development. Asia is globally significant to us,” Scott said.

Last year, when the Washington Huskies and the Texas Longhorns had a basketball game in China, the importance of China was clearly shown by university presidents.

David Pershing, the University of Utah President went with the Pac-12 contingent to China for that basketball game. His team wasn’t even involved in the game.

Why would Pershing come along? University presidents see a population that could possibly attend and spend money at their school. Once again, the bottom line is what they see.  They don’t see what the Chinese government does to its citizens.

I understand the attraction of China. It’s a market with a billion people, but it is a market that is suppressed by the government.

Doing business in China means doing business with the Chinese government. The same government that squashed a pro-democracy movement at Tiananmen Square in 1989. People stood in front of tanks, sacrificed their lives, and the lives of their families by taking a stand against their government.

One of the things that the Pac-12 prides itself on is being transparent in its business dealings. Well, excuse me if I don’t buy the transparency part when you crawl into bed with the Chinese.

The conference spent approximately $726,000 on these Global Initiatives in China. Shouldn’t this amount of money be put towards fighting human rights violations in China?

If you want a true Global Initiative, that would be a good one to start for the Pac-12.

I think the conference presidents would benefit more from that with their students, instead of spending that money on athletics.

The Pac-12 Conference should be about what is good for the whole, not just itself. By telling China thanks, but no thanks, you tell other businesses that human rights are more important. Money takes a back seat to what benefits society.

While we throw our monetary condemnation on North Carolina for having a ridiculous law, we need to have the same reaction when we go over to China to do business. If Chinese officials want the business of the Pac-12, they need to show that they are serious about being fair to their own citizens.

However, that won’t happen. Money is what college athletics is about and that will not change anytime soon.

The Chinese will continue to do what they do and the Pac-12 will continue to turn a blind eye to human rights in China.

 

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

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Pac-12 Teams Have Something to Prove in Week Two

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

Arizona State

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

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

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

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

California

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

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

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

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

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

USC

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

You saw what happened.

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

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

Is Clay Helton the guy?

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

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

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

Washington State

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

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

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

Head coach Mike Leach was frustrated with the defense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Courtesy of Mike Wilson

The 2016 Pac-12 Champion Will Be One of These Two Teams Not Named USC

Winning the Pac-12 Conference in football is a difficult thing to accomplish. The conference is known for being one that eat its own, and this year won’t be any different. The question that gets asked this time of year is who will be playing for the Pac-12 Championship?

Stanford and UCLA will be the two teams left standing at the end of the season.

Why?

Stanford

Stanford returns to the title game after winning the Pac-12 title in 2015. Under head coach David Shaw, the Cardinal has won conference titles, gone to three Rose Bowl’s, and was very close to squeezing into college football playoff. The experience of this success will be something for Stanford to rely on in 2016. Experience counts for something in football and Stanford has experience in spades.

Christian McCaffrey will have something to say about the Cardinal getting to the title game. McCaffrey is coming off a season that was one for the record books, but he will be will looking to show that 2015 was not a fluke.

Coach David Shaw has one plan.

“We will get Christian the ball as much as humanly possible. We would be crazy to think otherwise.” Shaw explained at the Pac-12 Media Days in July.

The other part of Stanford that I believe will help them return to the Pac-12 title game is their ability to line up and smash teams. The Pac-12 is a finesse conference, so having the ability to line up and act like an SEC team is advantageous for them.

Stanford is replacing a couple of players on the offensive line, but they have shown that they can find big, tough guys for the offensive line and it works.

Being in the Pac-12 North will be tough on Stanford. They have to play at Oregon, at Washington, and Washington State at home. Nothing easy there. Plus they have to travel to Notre Dame, so that’ll be another challenge.

However, when it’s all said and done, the Stanford Cardinal will be the representative from the North Division.

UCLA

The Bruins come into this season as one of the teams that has a returning quarterback, and at this level that means a hell of a lot.

Josh Rosen is becoming a household name, and if he leads the Bruins to a conference championship he becomes a nationwide name. Rosen is the biggest key to the Bruins chances in the Pac-12 South.

Josh Rosen is easily the most talented Bruin, but he’s not the only talent on the offensive side of the ball for the Bruins.

Rosen has a talented trio of running backs that will provide much-needed punch to the offense. Keep your eye on Soso Jamabo, Nate Starks, and Bolu Olorunfunmi. There is plenty of speed between the three of those players to create problems for the opposing team.

UCLA will be the winners in the South because of Rosen and the ability of the offensive line to protect him. There are some new faces on the line, but Texas transfer Jake Raulerson joins the Bruins this season to solidify the o-line.

The schedule for the Bruins is one that works well for them. They avoid Oregon and Washington, but have to face Stanford, USC, Utah, and Arizona at home. Three those four teams are South division teams, so those wins are crucial.

UCLA has the talent, schedule, and quarterback to get them to the Pac-12 Championship game against Stanford.

Pac-12 Champion

Stanford wins the conference title again with Christian McCaffrey as the best all-around player in the country, a tough offensive line, and the best coach in the Pac-12 in David Shaw. I trust what Coach Shaw is doing with his program. Shaw’s results speak for themselves. UCLA is talented and has the best quarterback in the conference with Josh Rosen. However, Stanford just has more experience, toughness, and talent right now than UCLA. Stanford beats UCLA 45-21.

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

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Predicted: 2016 Power 5 Conference Champions

This week’s piece is the second of three pieces i will be writing previewing the college football season. Last week was a focus on predicting the champions of the group of 5 conferences, and if you want to read that first, you can find it here. Next week will be the finale of the preview series, with a look at the NY6 Bowl Games and the College Football Playoff.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Clemson Tigers (12-0) vs. Miami Hurricanes (9-3)

Both sides of the ACC are going to be races between the top 2-3 teams. In the Atlantic decision, those teams are Clemson, FSU, and a sleeper Louisville, while in the Coastal those teams are Miami, UNC and VT. I expect the Clemson Tigers to ride Deshaun Watson to another undefeated regular season, with its biggest challenge obviously being down at FSU. None the less, I expect Clemson to be matured by its title game run last season, and I see the Tigers edging out FSU in a tightly contested match.

In the Coastal Division, while VT could pose a threat, I think this division title is really between Miami and UNC. And that being said, UNC’s out of conference schedule is much more difficult, with a game vs. Georgia at the Georgia Dome to kick off the season. Miami, on the other hand, starts off its season with three super tough opponents…Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State. Given that start to the season, I think Miami advances to the ACC Championship by a game over the Heels. It is important to note that FSU, with only a single loss to Clemson, would still be a huge contender for the CFP.

Conference Champion: Clemson Tigers

Big 12

Conference Contenders: Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor

While 2017 may be the return of a championship game for the Big 12, the lack of one this year will make the conference title race an interesting one to say the least. While OSU and Baylor will factor in, this race should and will come down to Oklahoma and TCU. And looking at its respective schedules, it’s hard to not see a difference between the two. TCU starts off with South Dakota State, Arkansas, Iowa State (who, for the record, always has an upset up its sleeve) and SMU. I would be surprised if going into its week 5 matchup with Oklahoma, TCU was not undefeated. Now, Oklahoma’s road to that matchup is extremely different. Going into the TCU matchup, Oklahoma has to battle through Houston and Ohio State, and to a much, much lesser degree the ULM Warhawks. Personally, I think the Sooners drop both the UH and Buckeye games. But, even if Oklahoma makes it out of those games without a loss, it will be exhausted from the extreme competition it has faced already. Even with two weeks to prepare for the TCU matchup, I believe the Sooners will be at a disadvantage, and lose to the Horned Frogs. After that matchup, I think the Big 12 conference matchups will give both TCU and Oklahoma some trouble, and I see both dropping a total of 2 in conference matchups.

 

Conference Champion: TCU (10-2)

Big Ten

Prediction: Ohio State (12-0) vs. Iowa (9-3)

Oh boy, here we go again. We finally have a Big Ten that is properly returned to form. And with that return to form, I have a bold prediction. On November 26th, ten years and 8 days after the historic matchup, we will see “The Game of the Century” Part 2 in Columbus, Ohio. Going into, what I believe, is the biggest rivalry in college, and maybe all of, sports, other than Ohio State’s challenge in Oklahoma, and both of their needs to beat Michigan State, we could easily see both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines be undefeated going into the matchup. Now, for me personally, this idea sends shivers down my spine, as, having grown up in the great state of Ohio, I both hate Michigan and also attended the 1 vs 2 game back in 2006. Now because of J.T. Barrett, Heisman finalist (and for my sanity as an Ohioan), I see the Horseshoe being stormed with Buckeye fans after a thrilling victory over the team up north. …oh, sorry, Big Ten West, I (and everyone else in the country) almost forgot about you. Iowa should be able to take the Big Ten west crown, and I see them doing so at a pace of 9-3.

Conference Champion: The Ohio State Buckeyes

Southeastern Conference

Prediction: Alabama (11-1) vs. Tennessee (10-2)

The SEC division titles seem to be two sets of three team races. Tennessee, Georgia and Florida will fight for the East, whilst ‘Bama, LSU and Ole Miss will fight for the West. I would be shocked, given the strength of the conference as a whole, to see any team come out of the SEC undefeated. That being said, however, Alabama is an easy pick for a division champ, as the Crimson Tide are of course, the reigning national campions. And nothing has shown me anything to doubt ‘Bama coming into 2016. LSU, behind Fournette, a Heisman candidate, will give Alabama a run for its money, but I think ‘Bama will prove to be the superior team.

Now in the East Division, things are more of a crapshoot. While Tennessee may be the most likely division champ, the Volunteer’s inconsistent play over the last several years is what the Bulldogs and Gators are counting on. If Tennessee falters, even slightly, one of those two will look to poach the division. However, I think Florida’s current QB situation makes it a less likely champion than UGA or Tennessee. Expect Tennessee to, despite some struggles, grind out the East.

Conference Champion: Alabama Crimson Tide

Pac-12

Prediction: Stanford (10-2) vs. UCLA (9-3)

The Pac-12 is a mess. It currently lacks a single team to help bring the conference back into prominence. Oregon will be good this year but not great, as the Ducks will get between 7-9 wins in the North. Oregon needs to watch out for its out of conference games against Virginia and Nebraska, as both teams could send the Ducks into a tail spin (pun intended) early in the season. I think Washington State, though the current favorite for conference champion, will struggle with its early conference matchups, as they play a large number of difficult conference opponents to start the Cougars conference play. I think the consistently decent Stanford Cardinal will be able to once again claim the North.

The South is in no better shape, as UCLA, USC, Utah, ASU, and Arizona are all decent teams, but not one of them stands out from the field. I think UCLA, being the program at the highest level of the current South Contenders, will be able to take the South in fairly mild fashion. The Bruins biggest challenge is facing BYU and Stanford in back to back weeks, but UCLA needs to make sure that they can recover in the possibility that it loses both games. If UCLA does start to falter, the South could still be very much up for grabs.

Conference Champion: Stanford Cardinal

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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The Washington Huskies’ Bark is Worse than its Bite

Hype can be a dangerous thing for any football team. It can motivate a team to loftier goals or it can do just the opposite. Hype causes expectations to get raised by the media, fans, and players. The 2016 Pac-12 Conference team that is receiving hype is the Washington Huskies. Have the Huskies done something to deserve the hype? Can they live up to the hype or will they wilt under this new pressure?

I don’t think the hype is warranted for the Huskies.

First of all, the Huskies have not beaten a team of consequence in the Pac-12. Beat an Oregon, a UCLA, Stanford, and I’ll buy into the hype that a lot of people want to throw upon Washington. The program has lost 12 straight to the Ducks and with the game being in Eugene this year, that streak doesn’t appear to be ending. Stanford is favored to win the conference, so that’ll be a game in which getting a win will be tough. UCLA has probably the best quarterback in the conference and that’ll make defeating the Bruins that much harder.

The Huskies did beat USC last season, but beating the drama filled Trojans last season isn’t saying much.

Here’s why I don’t trust the Huskies and all this hype. In one possession games last season, they were 1-3, with the lone win being over USC. However, when you take into account the six other top-50 programs that were on the schedule they were a dismal 0-6. Washington was competitive in those games, but being competitive is one thing, while actually winning those games is something totally different.

Win those games this year and I’ll climb on board the Husky train. Until then, I don’t think so.

The hype has surrounded their young quarterback Jake Browning, but putting this pressure on Browning can actually work against his development. If things start going south for him it could get ugly. Young quarterbacks start forcing things into tight windows on their throws and doing things that they are not ready to do. Browning is good, but being ready to lead can be a difficult thing for any quarterback. He needs to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump for Washington to make believers out of more than their fans.

Do the Huskies have some nice pieces? Absolutely, but these pieces don’t warrant Pac-12 Championship talk. At least not yet.

Having seen them in person against Arizona State last season I certainly saw the potential with the team. Washington was as athletic as anybody, but their youth was evident. Turnovers and penalties helped destroy what would have been a nice road win.  The good, young skill players that they have still needed some seasoning.

Chris Peterson spoke of this breakthrough moniker at the Pac-12 football Media Days. He compared the hype surrounding his team to the new Pokemon game that is taking over everyone’s phone.

“We’re amused-that’s probably the best word-that we continually get better every single week with doing nothing. We have as much hype as the new Pokemon game that nobody knows anything about, but thinks is really cool.” Peterson said.

Peterson has a point. The Huskies are coming off a season where the record was only 7-6. He seems a bit befuddled about why his team is getting this love.

“We want to get out there, and get better, and we want to get a chance to go prove that we’re getting better.” Coach Peterson explained at the Pac-12 Media Days.

At the end of the day, the Huskies have a tough road ahead of them in the Pac-12 North division. They have to battle two of their biggest rivals in Oregon and Washington State. The Huskies also have to contend with Stanford as well. Washington has to beat two out of these three teams to legitimately have a shot at the division crown.

The Washington Huskies may be the hyped Pac-12 team going into the season, but don’t expect the hype to be fulfilled.

 

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Don’t Sleep on the Washington State Cougars in 2016

Every football season there are teams that have the potential to surprising fans. Entering into the 2016 Pac-12 football season the Washington State Cougars have that potential. Many preseason prognosticators look at Stanford, Oregon, or UCLA as the probable winners of the conference. However, there is a team in Eastern Washington that I believe is a dark horse to ruin those thoughts.

The Washington State Cougars are coming off a successful season in which they went to a bowl game and beat Oregon and UCLA on the road.

At the Pac-12 football media days, head coach Mike Leach was fairly optimistic about his team’s chances.

“We have some good pieces to the puzzle, it is just about putting those pieces in the right spot, so everything comes together,” Leach said.

One of the things coach Leach has working in his favor is an experienced quarterback in Luke Falk. In this “Air-Raid” offense of Leach’s, Falk puts up incredible numbers for the Cougars. Last season, Luke Falk threw for 6,420 yards, 51 touchdowns, and had a completion percentage of 69%. Falk is looking to go over the 5,000-yard barrier in 2016.

[Wilson: Luke Falk: The Best Quarterback You’ve Never Heard Of]

If Falk can duplicate those video game statistics, then he will put the Cougars in a great position to take Pac-12 North division and possibly the conference championship. Coach Leach has been impressed with his quarterback’s development in the offseason.

“His footwork has got better and better with every rep and now it’s continuing to develop that consistency that he needs to get to that next level,” Leach said about his quarterback.

However, you need more than a quarterback to make a run at a conference title. What does Washington State have besides Luke Falk?

With all those yards that Falk threw for, he needs a balanced running attack. The Cougars have a three headed attack in the backfield.

The Cougars top three rushers are returning to fold in 2016 and that will help take some pressure off of Falk. It’ll also keep opposing defenses from pinning their ears back and coming after Luke Falk on every down.

Gerard Wicks, the Cougars leading rusher is returning in 2016. He had 107 rushes for 610 yards, Jamal Morrow also comes back with his 347 rushing yards. Finally, Keith Harrington comes back with his 238 yards on the ground. That is almost 1,200 yards of rushing offense for the Cougars. That was enough to keep opposing defenses off balance last season. That needs to improve though for 2016.

Luke Falk had many games where he had over 40 throwing attempts and even one game where he had 74 attempts passing. More balance is needed for this offense.

I don’t want to see Falk with a dead arm halfway through the season and the chances of a special season go dead as well.

The top receiver returns to give the offense the same added punch that they had in 2015.

Wide receiver, Gabe Marks, returns and brings his 1,192 yards of offense with him. Having Marks return was a bit of a surprise because many thought he would take the jump to the NFL. Behind Marks is a plethora of depth and speed for the Cougars. Watch for these receivers to stretch the opposing defenses and make life miserable for the rest of the league.

A couple of areas that do concern me for the Cougars are on the offensive line and showing a greater improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

Luke Falk’s blindside will have two sophomores protecting it. Andre Dillard, who the coaches really like and an absolute beast in 6’8”, 351 pound Cody O’Connell, who can overpower anybody who comes at him. However, they have limited experience. It is different when you go from watching the action to being right in the middle of it.

Defensively, showing continued improvement is a must. Wazzu went from 95th to 72nd in defensive efficiency last season. They can’t afford to slide at all. The offenses in the Pac-12 demand that you come with a good defense so you don’t get 100 points dropped on you.

If the Cougars can jump 23 spots with the defensive efficiency, then there is no excuse not to do it again in 2016.

On paper, the Cougars have the ingredients to get to 10 wins in 2016. Mike Leach has the program trending up and that trend should continue in 2016. Right now, the Washington State Cougars are my dark horse team to win the Pac-12 North division.

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

Pac-12 Football Media Days

A media day can be an interesting thing to attend or it can digress into a couple days of coach and player speak. Coaches know what they want the media to know and the players have been told what to focus on in their interviews. This was certainly the case here in Hollywood, California for the Pac-12 Football Media Days.

State of the Conference

The Pac-12 Media Days in Hollywood began with a “state of the conference” speech from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. Will Scott get hammered on the conference’s television contract, Directv, or nine-game schedule?

Not really.

Larry Scott discussed, with pride, the amount of athletes going to the Rio Olympics from the conference. He also was boastful about the new venture with Twitter which will expand their streaming capabilities and give fans of the Pac-12 something new to use when looking for highlights of their favorite Pac-12 team. There will also be more technology streaming with Facebook Live and putting all 12 conference teams on a conference YouTube channel. It’s obvious that they are taking to technology advances and trying to use it to their advantage to bring in more Pac-12 fans.

With Silicon Valley being physically in the lay of the conference, the Pac-12 should be doing what it is doing with technology. It’s an absolute no-brainer for the conference and for their fans.

Once Larry Scott was finished it was onto the run of coaches for this first day of Pac-12 Football Media Days.

Arizona Wildcats

Rich Rodriguez was in the leadoff position and was still in vacation mode when he took the microphone.

“I’d rather still be on vacation for another week than be here. Let’s get this rolling,” Rodriguez quipped.

One of the focuses for Arizona is to keep quarterback Anu Solomon healthy and to get more consistency from him. When asked, Rich Rodriguez agreed.

“Anu is getting better but we need more consistency from him and we are also going to put more responsibility on him this season,” Rodriquez stated.

California Golden Bears

Next up was California head coach Sonny Dykes.

Dykes seemed most pleased with his players raising their grades on the APR of the team than anything. Which, in and of itself, is a great thing to hear from a major college football coach these days.

Dykes mentioned that they have to overcome losing the talented Jared Goff. He mentioned that quarterback position is still open and will continue to be through the first week or two of camp. His staff will make a decision on the position around then.

It might have been kind of tough for Sonny Dykes to follow a gregarious guy in Rich Rodriguez and be the guy before Clayton Helton of USC.

USC Trojans

Clay Helton took to the microphone and it seemed like all of the media was upon him. It was like sharks circling their prey.

One thing you get real quick about Helton is that when you listen to him speak, you get a sense that he wants to be on the field playing. I certainly would want to be a young player at USC playing for him.

Being a part of USC means you have to come to work every day because of the amount of talent that is seeping from the program.

“You come to USC to compete. We play in a playoff system world. You’re building your resume when you come to USC.” Helton said.

When asked about the pressures of being at USC, he simply said he will gladly take it.

“If you don’t want the pressure, don’t take the job,” Helton told the hordes of reporters surrounding him.

Like many other conference schools, he is dealing with a quarterback issue between Max Browne and Sam Darnold. According to Helton, it’s a very open competition right now and won’t be decided until the last couple weeks of fall camp.

Oregon Ducks

“Win the day” is the saying at Oregon, but can they win the conference? Can they win their division? Many people believe its Stanford’s conference this year, yet head coach Mark Helfrich doesn’t seem to care.

“We have to worry about watching enough film to have a good practice and game. We don’t worry about rankings. It’s not our focus,” Helfrich explained.

The Ducks have a quarterback battle going on as well. Helfrich still calls it an open competition, however, I still think it’ll be Dakota Prukop winning the starting position.

Washington State Cougars

Mike Leach is probably the most entertaining coach of this day. Usually the coach has some opening remarks for the assembled media, but not Leach.

“If you know me at all, you know I don’t do opening remarks. Let’s get this thing rolling,” Leach said.

He is just a guy who speaks his mind, whether or not the media or fans like it. He doesn’t care.

Leach has quarterback Luke Falk coming back and when asked about what he needs to see out of Falk this year, the answer was simple.

“Consistency. He’s not a guy that has a glaring weakness anywhere, but consistency is needed,” Leach said.

The Cougars will be challenging everybody this year and could even be considered a dark horse in the division. With a talented quarterback and guys at the skill positions who are threats, Leach could lead this team to something special.

Utah Utes

Kyle Whittingham of Utah was the last to appear on the media stage. He lost Travis Wilson and Devontae Booker to graduation and the NFL, so those positions are a concern.

“We got to get the quarterback position question resolved. It’ll be an open competition entering fall camp,” Whittingham explained.

Whittingham likes how his team has gradually got better every year they have been in the Pac-12 and he doesn’t expect that to change.

I don’t expect that to change either. If ever there was guy to weather a big change in his football program, it is certainly Kyle Whittingham.

Image: Google

The Dark-Horse Candidates for the 2016 College Football Playoffs

Conference media days are heating up as we venture into the heat of August. That also means that we are not only closer to summer college football camp but we are also closer to the games actually kicking off. I do not know about you, but I am ready to do this 2016 season!

As I day dream about what 2016 will bring, I find myself thinking about the College Football Playoff and who may be some of the surprise, dark-horse teams that could be in contention for one of the four coveted spots.

Here are the teams from each of the Power 5 conferences that I believe could be dark-horse contenders for the playoff.

SEC

Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks are my dark-horse pick from the SEC. Bielema has been in Fayetteville long enough that his system should be considered established. That means that he has “his” players in place to go along with his system.

His roster is littered with established players on both sides of the ball. This includes a knowledgeable and capable quarterback in Austin Allen, a beast of an offensive lineman in Dan Skipper, a stud of a running back in Kody Walker and a top tier wide receiver in Keon Hatcher.

The defensive side of the ball may not be quite on par with Bielema’s offensive depth chart but there are known commodities on the defensive line with Taiwan Johnson and Bijhon Jackson.

And let us not forget that they have an advantageous schedule. At least it is as advantageous as an SEC West team could hope for. They have a great resume building opportunity with a non-conference road game against TCU and then get Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Florida all in Fayetteville.

The ingredients are there for a surprise playoff run.

Pac-12

The Pac-12 could be the year of the pirate. That is right, Washington State with head coach Mike Leach is my pick for the Pac-12’s dark-horse playoff team.

Wazzu is my pick for no other reason than quarterback Luke Falk. Falk can sling the ball around in a wide open offense as he guides a Cougar offense that should outwork scoreboards across the conference. They are not one of the best teams in the conference, but with Falk and Leach, they will put enough pressure on opposing teams that they should be a threat to the conference.

The Cougars play Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, California, and Washington all in Pullman. Their toughest road game will be at Arizona State and they do not have to deal with USC.

If Leach’s Cougars play even a little defense, this team will be a handful week in and week out.

Big 12

Most of my fellow writers at Campus Pressbox are probably expecting me to select Texas as my dark-horse playoff contender from the Big 12, but, not so fast, my pick here is Oklahoma State

Mike Gundy will not only have a talented roster that is led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, but he will also have a schedule that is beyond favorable. All three of the Cowboys’ non-conference games will be played in Stillwater. If this were not enough, the Cowboys also welcome Texas, West Virginia, and Texas Tech all to Stillwater. All three of those opponents could be considered dark-horse candidates and Oklahoma State gets them all in Stillwater.

ACC

It would be easy to choose Louisville simply because they play a beast of a non-conference opponent when the go on the road to play Marshall. My omission of Louisville as my ACC dark-horse playoff candidate should not be taken as a show of disrespect to the Thundering Herd.

My ACC dark-horse is Miami. Everyone seemed to pick Georgia each year to with the SEC East with Mark Richt, so it is only fitting to go with Miami here. Surely Richt will not bring his system of bitter disappointment to the ACC, will he?

Richt will have talent in Miami, because, well, it is Miami and talent was never the problem for the Hurricanes. As a first year Miami head coach, Richt should have the players and fans energized and the team will play enough of its high profile games at home as they host Florida State, North Carolina, and Duke.

It will not be easy for Miami, but it will not be easy for any team who is considered a dark-horse candidate for the playoffs.

Big Ten

As someone who gets labeled as “another SEC homer,” it pains me to say this, but the Big Ten is going to be Murderer’s Row this year. Each time that I wanted to make a particular team my choice as the Big Ten dark-horse, I looked at their schedule. Brutal.

So with that said, I am considering any team not named Michigan or Ohio State to be in consideration as my Big Ten dark-horse. And Michigan State is my pick.

From a personnel perspective, the Spartans may have the most questions of the teams I have chosen in this article. However, they do have LJ Scott at running back, are still coached by Mark Dantonio and have as favorable a schedule as you are likely to find in the Big Ten.

They do play both Michigan and Ohio State, but both games are in East Lansing. And if that were not enough good fortune, the Spartans also host Northwestern and Wisconsin.

It will not be easy this year in the Big Ten, but if there is a team that could turn the conference upside down, it is Sparty with Dantonio.

Oh, and do not forget, they will also face a fierce test in the second game of the season as they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.

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

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

The Mountain West’s Best Football Games of 2016

The Mountain West has taken quite the fall from grace. Just ten years ago things looked great, as it was the dominant non-BCS conference. With TCU and Boise State challenging for BCS title appearances, and Utah and BYU very solid programs as well, there were years the MWC was better than some BCS conferences.

Now, Boise State is the only of those four teams still around, and even the Broncos have fallen back to the pack with former coach Chris Petersen now at Washington. It has left a less interesting conference, albeit one that is much more competitive. San Diego State ran away with it in 2015. Will that change this fall? Here are the ten games that will shape the Mountain West in 2016.

10. Fresno State @ Nebraska (Saturday, September 3)

Fresno State wasn’t very good last year, but Nebraska hasn’t exactly been dominating since joining the Big Ten, either. It’s a long shot, but the Bulldogs would earn the Mountain West a huge amount of respect if they can knock off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on the season’s opening weekend.

9. Utah State @ Boise State (Saturday, October 1)

The unfortunate Chuckie Keeton era is over at Utah State, but replacing him won’t be the Aggies biggest issue. Kent Myers played a good chunk of the season last year and finished with 16 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. He’ll lead an offense with eight starters returning against Boise State in a game between two teams competing for a conference title bid.

8. Nevada @ San Jose State (Saturday, October 15)

These were the only two teams besides San Diego State to even finish .500 in their division last year. The winner of this one will later play the Aztecs with a spot in the conference championship game likely on the line.

7. San Diego State @ Northern Illinois (Saturday, September 17)

Northern Illinois has been the class of the MAC recently, and San Diego State rolled through the Mountain West last year. It may not mean much to most of the country, but this game is for bragging rights over the strength of Group of Five conferences.

6. Boise State @ Oregon State (Saturday, September 24)

Boise State, playing its second consecutive Pac-12 team, gets a bye before this one. The Broncos might be favored and will look for a win to provide the team some momentum and confidence heading into its conference slate.

5. California @ San Diego State (Saturday, September 10)

This is one of the bigger non-conference games among Mountain West teams. The Aztecs will bring in the nation’s second-longest winning streak and look to avenge last year’s 35-7 loss to Cal. It will be much easier with departed Cal quarterback Jared Goff playing on Sundays.

4. Washington State @ Boise State (Saturday, September 10)

Boise State hasn’t been the same team in the past few years that it was when Chris Petersen had them rolling, but the Broncos should improve from their four losses a year ago under third-year coach Bryan Harsin. The Broncos knocked off the Washington Huskies last year and will look to do the same against the Huskies’ rival.

3. San Diego State @ Fresno State (Saturday, October 15)

This in-state battle for San Diego State is against one of the few teams to play them close in 2015. The Bulldogs played a close-ish 21-7 game against the Aztecs and now get them at home. With SDSU’s defense not as dominant as a year ago, Fresno could pull the upset.

2. Nevada @ Hawaii (Saturday, October 1)

Hawaii was pretty dreadful last year and didn’t notch a conference win. They return 17 starters this year though so that streak should end at some point. Will it here? If a Nevada team looking to compete for a conference title game spot overlooks the Warriors, they could be in for a long trip back from the islands.

1. San Diego State @ Nevada (Saturday, November 12)

San Diego State dominated the Mountain West last year, allowing just 90 points in eight conference games. Nevada should have a good offense, but its defense will have to improve after giving up 320 yards rushing to the Aztecs in this match-up last year.

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

Featured image courtesy Nathan Rupert