Mr. G’s Pac-12 Football Weekly
Welcome back, college football fans! After a tumultuous offseason, it is finally time to enjoy the glories of the gridiron.
Let me begin with a disclaimer. Do not be misled by the title: I will write something when I feel it will be of interest, and when I have time; therefore, this column (which could become a blog?) may or may not occur each week during the season. Furthermore, although the focus will be on the Pac-12, I will include some games of national significance as I see fit.
Since no one is paying for this, I am free to write whatever I want, and in whatever irreverent tone I choose. This includes my personal biases against Dumb Cal and Stupid Washington State University. I’m giving you my opinion; if you disagree, you’re right.
Now that that’s clear, let’s get down to business.
Section 1: National Notes
- 17-13 = Survival Bowl. That was the score in Michigan State’s home victory over overmatched Boise State, as well as South Carolina’s road escape at improving Vanderbilt. These results might actually speak more in favor of the teams that lost than of the teams that won. Still, a win is a win….
- Iowa, Wisconsin Have Just Enough. Playing at Solider Field in what was a semi-home game for reigning MAC champion Northern Illinois, the Hawkeyes eked out an 18-17 win despite only 268 total yards. Wisconsin, by contrast, playing at home against Northern Iowa, was up by 19 points late in the third quarter before the always dangerous Panthers came roaring back. UNI, who had sustained one-point losses at Iowa and Iowa State in recent seasons, closed the gap to 26-21 and had the ball in Wisconsin territory before failing to convert on 4th and 1.
- Bad Day for Pennsylvania. You can decide which is worse: Pitt’s 31-17 drubbing at home to FCS Youngstown State, or Penn State’s punchless performance in a 24-14 loss to Ohio. Granted, Ohio won 10 games last year, but one has to wonder how much the cloud of the Paterno situation affected Penn State in their first game since the sanctions were handed down (more on that later). As for Pitt, all I can say is, yikes.
- Near Escapes vs. FCS Opponents Bode Ominously for ACC. Having suffered through a miserable 2-10 season last year, Maryland surely must have wanted to get off to a fast start against the likes of William and Mary. But after four turnovers and a paltry 236 total yards, the Terrapins have to consider themselves lucky indeed to have forged a 7-6 victory (particularly since they trailed with under 10 minutes to play). Equally distressing was Wake Forest’s near collapse vs. Liberty. The Demon Deacons were outgained at home and had to rely on a pick six and a missed field goal to account for a 20-17 decision. The ACC was weak to begin with; these results reinforce the generally held opinion that they have the weakest BCS league at present, with the possible exception of the Big East.
- Even Worse? Oh yes, most certainly. In descending order of ineptitude I give you:
(#3) Houston. Really, the Cougars? The team that went 12-1 last year with Case Keenum, the NCAA’s all-time offense leader? Uh, yes. Consider what happened in Houston’s abysmal performance against first-year FBS member Texas State San Marcos (who?): the Bobcats (no, not Ohio) had more yards, more first downs, and a ridiculous 43:09 to 16:51 advantage in time of possession. Houston lost, at home, 30-13, and the offensive coordinator was fired one game into the season.
(#2) Memphis. This is a horse of a different color (Memphis was horrific last year at 2-10). Or maybe not: Memphis also was outgained, had fewer first downs, and lost the time of possession battle – except they did so to Tennessee-Martin, losing on a field goal with four seconds remaining, which was made possible by a fumbled punt return with 21 seconds to go. Thus, Houston may be bad, but in losing to T-Mart (not sure if that’s the school’s nickname, but for my purposes, it is), Memphis is worse. And yet…
(#1) Idaho must be the absolute worst team in FBS. Yes, they were 8-5 as recently as three years ago, and were competitive at 6-7 two years ago, but they went 2-10 last year and might be heading for 0-12 this season, were it not for the fact they are playing in the WAC. There is no excuse for losing 20-3 to Eastern Washington. At home. In an ugly domed stadium. In front of 11,000 people. (Wait a minute, I just came up with some excuses.) Good luck Vandals, you’re gonna need it.
- At the Top. Because it is so early in the season, it might seem ridiculous to start debating the best teams in the country; but if Week 1 is any indication, the top spot HAS to go to Alabama, who annihilated #8 Michigan 41-14. LSU won by the same score against North Texas, but that was at home – and it was against North Texas. USC defeated Hawaii 49-10, but that too was at home, and the opponent was not Michigan. If any team caught my attention this weekend for the top spot (other than Alabama), it would be West Virginia, who scored 10 touchdowns for the second straight game (dating to last season’s Orange Bowl romp over Clemson). I don’t think the Mountaineers will continue on that torrid pace, of course, but who wants to play them right now? Certainly not I.
- Quit Your Whining. Before I focus on the Pac-12, I have something to say about the chatter I have heard surrounding the NCAA and its sanctions in recent years. I have a strong opinion, and many of you ain’t gonna like it, and I don’t give a rip.
My not-so-remarkable hypothesis comes from experience. I’m a teacher and I enforce discipline in my classes. You screw up, you pay the penalty. Good parents understand this; good teachers understand this; anyone who manages human beings understands this. Apparently, however, some college football fans seem to think that when the NCAA hands down sanctions against schools that break the rules, it is somehow “unjust” or “unfair.”
This attitude may very well stem from our nation’s mamby-pamby approach to rules enforcement, particularly in sports. Baseball players who get caught with performance enhancing drugs serve suspensions for 10, 30, 50, and 100 games, based on their 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th offenses, respectively. Let’s see…if I get caught a third time, I lose just a third of my exorbitant annual salary? That’s not a significant deterrent; I better keep on using!
If the people who ran baseball – both the players as well as the commissioner – had any backbone whatsoever, they would be able to clean up the sport by changing the policy. YOU CHEAT, YOU’RE OUT. No first offense, second offense, fifth offense. You know exactly what you’re doing when you use a banned substance! If you’re caught, you’re done. Period.
Applying this to NCAA football: the last time the NCAA did the right thing, they handed out the supreme punishment to SMU for blatant violations that ran rampant throughout the program. Over the last decade we have seen Miami, USC, Ohio State, and Penn State allow egregious abuses within their football programs. Unfortunately, the NCAA has made the feckless decision not to bite the hand that feeds it, imposing sanctions – but nothing further – on these programs. If I were in charge of the NCAA, two things would change: first, I would outline specific punishments for specific abuses, so that enforcement is consistent based on the severity of the crime; and second, I would actually dole out the punishment required.
The most obvious should be for “failure to comply” and “lack of institutional control.” These offenses are the most severe, for they fly in the face of fairness: not only are these schools breaking the rules, they are flaunting their practices in so doing. Schools found guilty of this should receive the death penalty. In the case of Miami (assuming the allegations regarding the enormous benefits paid out by the booster are verified), I would give them at least one year. USC would have received at least one year. Ohio State would have received one year (mainly because their coach knew what was going on but chose not to act on it). Finally, in the horrific case of Penn State – what the NCAA deemed “an unprecedented failure of institutional integrity” – for a case that ugly, I would penalize the school for FOUR YEARS. That’s right, no football at all for an entire class.
To those who counter that “punishing the players” is not the right way to address past wrongs, I say: grow up and face the music. Players who are put out because of such circumstances can always transfer and offer their playing talents to schools that abide by the rules. The bottom line is this: if you don’t cheat, you won’t find yourself in this situation in the first place. Don’t come whining to me when you get caught. Other schools play by the rules; they should not suffer a competitive disadvantage because of your cheating!
Finally, to anyone who has the temerity to suggest that it’s “impossible” to abide by the rules the NCAA sets forth, you are simply wrong. Over one-third of all FBS football programs have NEVER been placed on probation. Here they are:
|Air Force (CO)||Kent St. (OH)||San Jose St. (CA)|
|Akron (OH)||Louisiana Tech||South Alabama|
|Army (NY)||Louisville||Stanford (CA)|
|Boston College (MA)||Miami (OH)||Temple (PA)|
|Bowling Green (OH)||Middle Tennessee||Texas-San Antonio|
|Brigham Young (UT)||Missouri||Toledo (OH)|
|Central Michigan||Nevada||Troy (AL)|
|Colorado St.||Nevada-Las Vegas||Tulane (LA)|
|Connecticut||North Texas||Vanderbilt (TN)|
|Duke (NC)||Northern Illinois||Wake Forest (NC)|
|Eastern Michigan||Northwestern (IL)||Washington St.|
|Florida Atlantic||Ohio||Western Kentucky|
|Idaho||Purdue (IN)||Western Michigan|
It pains me to say it – and I can’t believe it’s actually true – but this list even includes Stupid Washington State University. For the 80-plus schools that aren’t on this list (which includes my alma mater), your legacy is tainted with shame.
Instead of whining about NCAA sanctions, the schools that receive them should try accepting responsibility. You don’t like it? STOP CHEATING – and consider yourself lucky that I’m not the sheriff.
Section 2: Back to the Pac — Results
Now that I have released my internal tension, it is time to recalibrate my blood pressure. Let’s discuss the happy goings-on from the Pac-12 this weekend!
UTAH: overwhelmed Northern Colorado 41-0, which might be impressive were it not for the fact that Northern Colorado has lost 19 of its past 20 games (and is in the Big Sky Conference).
COLORADO: came up short against rival Colorado State, 22-17. Admittedly, playing an emotional game to open the season is never easy, but losing to a team that was 3-9 last season cannot sit well with Buffs fans, who may be in for another long season.
ARIZONA: winning 24-17 in overtime, at home, against Toledo, might seem like a shaky way to start the season. But Toledo is a tricky opponent, and Arizona in fact dominated this game: they had two touchdowns called back, missed two short field goals, and turned the ball over three times. With total yardage standing at 624 to 358, the score should not have been that close. The ‘Cats have something to build on – and a fortunate win to boot.
ARIZONA STATE: yes, it was 63-6, but it was against Northern Arizona. I’m reserving judgment on this team until their next few games.
UCLA and USC: I’ll finish with those two. Keep your pants on.
STANFORD: I tried to warn anyone who would listen that Stanford better be on alert against San Jose State this weekend. The Spartans were vastly improved last season, staying competitive in every game after their opener, and figured to be even better this year. By contrast Stanford lost stars at tight end, on the offensive line, on the defense, and of course at QB. The result? The Cardinal hung on – barely – to record a tense 20-17 victory at the Farm. Last year’s Stanford team won 57-3 against the same opponent. This year’s Stanford team ain’t going 11-1.
CAL: Yes, Nevada is a solid team, but oh, what a miserable way to begin the “new era” in Cal football. The newly rebuilt Memorial Stadium – which, however, still looks awful with the completely unnecessary artificial turf – saw the Bears get behind early, commit plenty of mistakes, and ultimately lose in the last minute, 31-24, to a rebuilt Nevada squad which defeated the Bears for the first time in 17 tries at the old ballpark. This setback is bound to cause considerable consternation among Cal fans who are already impatient with the team’s mediocrity over the past several seasons. If the Bears don’t turn things around in a hurry, this will be Tedford’s final season at the helm.
OREGON: the Ducks surrendered 530 yards of total offense and were outscored in the second half, at home, 24-7 by Arkansas State. Reason for concern? Not a chance. The Ducks were up 50-10 at halftime, so Chip Kelly wisely rested his starters while allowing his backups to get ample playing time. I actually expected this game to be a bit more competitive, as A-State went 10-3 last season. With this result, my doubts have been erased, and Oregon becomes the clear favorite to repeat as North Division champs in the Pac-12.
OREGON STATE: the biggest loser from Week 1 might just be the Beavers, whose tune-up game vs. Nicholls State had to be rescheduled (or cancelled) due to the hurricane. This is significant because their first opponent, now, will be Wisconsin, who did have the opportunity to get the kinks out with their difficult victory over Northern Iowa. Will the Beavers be able to win six games this season? If so, it won’t be easy….
WASHINGTON: mission accomplished. The defense effectively shut down the potentially dangerous San Diego State attack, allowing the Huskies to pull out a 21-12 victory and help erase the embarrassment of giving up 67 points to Baylor in last year’s Alamo Bowl. If the Dawgs can continue to improve on defense, they could cause trouble in the Pac-12 North.
WASHINGTON STATE: Air Raid Attack? Mike Leach’s first game at the helm of the Cougars (Wazzu, that is) was more a failure to launch. Losing at BYU is not surprising, but losing 30-6 and being held to 224 yards? Either that has to change quickly, or WSU will not be as competitive as I thought they’d be this season.
UCLA: what a crazy game! By the end of the first half, the Bruins had three plays of 70+ yards, which was three times as many as they had ALL OF LAST SEASON! Rice, however, countered with some offense of their own, and with under a minute to go before halftime, the Owls were down just 29-24 and had the ball with a chance to take the lead. At that point, the game changed for good: Rice fumbled, UCLA recovered and scored, and from then on the Bruins put the clamps down on defense, shutting out the Owls in the second half to win going away, 49-24. The announced attendance was 23,000; it seemed like UCLA was playing at the old Stanford Stadium, which Bob Toledo once likened to a Sears parking lot.
USC: the Trojans were outscored in the third quarter and had several dropped passes on offense. Hawaii managed to move the ball in stretches. I don’t think USC played particularly sharply, to be honest. There are only two conclusions to be drawn: either USC is not as good as we all thought, or…USC is absolutely frightening! (Needless to say, I am taking the second opinion.) The fact that USC could have played better but still led 35-0 at halftime is scary. Woods and Lee have to be the premiere receiving tandem in the country, but despite several touchdowns, they didn’t play their best games. That is beyond frightening and scary: that is downright horrifying. Thank goodness I’m not a Pac-12 defensive coordinator facing USC this season.
Just for fun:
- Bang! On their first plays from scrimmage, USC and UCLA netted a total of 147 yards and two touchdowns. Not a bad way to start the season.
- Conversion Issues. USC tried three 2-point conversions in the first half, failing on all of them, despite the fact that their kicker made a field goal and went 4-for-4 on PAT’s during the game. Meanwhile, UCLA did manage to go 1-for-2 on 2-point conversions, but only after having a preposterous three PAT’s blocked – by the same player! Needless to say, both teams need to fix this immediately.
- U-G-L-Y. It’s your call. Which looked worse: Oregon’s outrageous uniforms, or Matt Barkley’s awful haircut? (Admittedly, neither looked as bad as Andrew Luck’s horrific neck beard last season.)
Section 3: Back to the Pac — Predictions
All the reporting has been done; all that’s left is to decipher where in the Pac each team will finish – based on this week’s results, that is.
1. USC. Anyone who puts any other team here is taking illegal substances. The Trojans are a prohibitive favorite to win, and for good reason. No one should defeat USC at the Coliseum (although Oregon clearly has the best chance to do so). Nevertheless, the Trojans will face challenges on the road. If they want to go 13-0, they can’t afford to slip up, as every team will be using their matchup vs. USC as a measuring stick.
2. ARIZONA/ARIZONA STATE/UTAH/UCLA. Take your pick. It’s just too early to tell who will be the best challenger to USC. If the Bruins put up a good fight against Nebraska next week, they’ve got a shot; barring that, perhaps Utah is the #2 team in the division, but then who knows.
6. COLORADO. Sorry Buffs, you’re way behind.
1. OREGON. Is there any stopping the Quack Attack? The Ducks should go 7-0 at home and will be expected to win at least three or four games on the road. Clearly, this team is still the class of the North.
2-6. EVERYONE ELSE. Stanford is not nearly as good as last year. Cal may be worse. Oregon State has too much ground to make up. Washington State won’t be good enough to challenge this season. So who’s left? I guess Washington, but they still need to make a quantum leap to be a player in the conference.
All told, I would be shocked if the Pac-12 title game features any team other than USC and Oregon. The real battle is for the third spot.
But, as we all know, predictions mean little. Besides, injuries can hit – and cripple – a team at any moment. On that uplifting note….
Enjoy the season everyone!