Archive for the ‘Arizona Wildcats’ Category

The 2K Decade Revisited, PAC-10 Style

July 1, 2009


This post has been hijacked to wish HAWK a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

First of all, what a tough month on the celeb death front. A moment of silence for those who passed on…..

I loved Farah. She was like THE dream-gal of dream gals back in the day. Raise your hand if you at least knew someone who had that poster on their wall. You know the one I mean.


What’s weird is that she was only on ONE season of Charlie’s Angels? You would have thought she was the entire franchise, but she sure cashed in there. And, yes, I loved Michael Jackson, but that was back in the Thriller/Beat It days, when everyone was trying to moonwalk. But once Michael decided he wanted to physically become Diana Ross, and all the ugly accusations and lawsuits against him with young boys? In other words, once “Jacko” went wacko? I was done. Sad to see him spiral down the tube like he did, but the guy had some serious issues. I would imagine being in the conversation as one of the most famous individuals on the planet for a number of years would do some weird things to you? Still, an amazing talent, a once-in-a generation type, ala Frank Sinatra and Elvis.

That said, I don’t know about you, but the Billy Mays death was one that made me the most sad of all. Not Billy Mays! He gets hit in the head with a piece of luggage on a rough landing of his flight into Tampa, then dies that night in his sleep? Probably a heart disease problem according to reports, but still, weird.

I think Mays might be one guy that Coug fans would have liked. Down to earth, hard worker, fun to be around, and lots of passion for what he does. I can imagine him wandering through WSU tailgate parties, handing him a Natural Light and a hot dog right off the grill, and just enjoying his company, more so than the others.


Well, OK, we’d probably enjoy Farah’s company too. But we like Mays. And no, I won’t insert a joke or video or whatever about the Sham Wow guy. Not today. Maybe tomorrow or the next day, but that would be disrespectful to Mr. Mays.

Moving on in a completely different direction, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at how the PAC-10 has fared since the year 2000. If you remember, we looked at this last summer, and it was an eye-opener in how successful some teams were (Oregon State) and some teams weren’t (cough*UW*cough). Check out the updated numbers and see for yourself….

1) USC: 93-22 overall – 47-8 at home, 38-12 on the road, 8-2 in neutral sites/bowls. It just continues. At least 11 wins since the 2002 season, including the 2004 13-0 record. Still amazing to think that they started out the decade by going 5-7 and 6-6, but have lost just 9 games the last seven years. And SC has lost some key assistants over the years, including super-O-Coordinator Norm Chow, yet the machine rolls on. They have run away with the decade, and it’s clearly the era of the Trojan.

2) Oregon: 77-35 overall – 44-12 at home, 29-18 away, 4-4 in neutral sites/bowls. Just one losing season in the decade (5-6 in ’04), but otherwise a winner on an annual basis. Bellotti hands off a major PAC-10 power to Chip Kelly, and when you look at the numbers? It’s hard to imagine a better situation to walk into than the state of the program that Kelly inherits. Also included is now an impressive 27-9 non-conference record against some bigger-name programs. A super-strong number two to USC in the conference.

3) Oregon State: 72-40 overall – 43-12 at home, 23-27 on the road, 6-1 in neutral sites/bowl games. Just one win behind Oregon for #2 in home wins, and just five wins overall away from the Ducks, they are legit as legit can be. Don’t forget this program had 28 straight LOSING SEASONS before 1999! Since Mike Riley returned in 2003, the Beavs have had just one losing season(5-6 in ’05). It was a surprise to many last year when they came in such a strong #3, and it just continues this year.

4) CAL: 63-48 overall– 37-18 at home, 21-28 on the road, 5-2 in neutral sites/bowl games. A horrendous start to the decade (4-18 from ’00-’01), it has completely turned around. Like another Jahvid Best run through the Washington-Washington State defenses in ’08, Cal has sprinted to #4 in the conference, up from #7 last year. They won’t catch Oregon State for third, but there is no doubt Cal is on a roll. They are finally over .500 in conference, now at 38-36 after going 6-3 in the PAC last year. If Tedford sticks around long-term, this may be the most interesting team to watch once we get into the next decade. After all, Tedford is now an impressive 59-30 at CAL in seven seasons. It’s hard to imagine CAL going away anytime soon?

5) ASU: 61-50 overall – 41-19 at home, 18-27 on the road, 2-4 in neutral sites/bowl games. A rough ’08 season at 5-7, but still good enough to catch UCLA for #5. They continued their road struggles last year, just 1-4 away from home (the lone win @ UW). Very similar to UCLA, now with three losing seasons this decade (’01, ’03, ’08). Also like UCLA, a couple of breakthrough seasons (9-3 in ’04, 10-3 in ’07), but otherwise a .500 record. They continue to be strong out of conference though, where even with some tough losses to UNLV and Georgia last season, they still are at 26-10 OOC for the decade.

6) UCLA: 60-51 overall – 38-18 at home, 20-28 on the road, 2-5 in neutral sites/bowl games. #4 in the PAC-10 wins last year, they have been passed by CAL and ASU and now sit at #6. A big step back last year at 4-8, but overall just three losing seasons in the decade (’03, ’07’, ’08). And even prior to last year, their previous two losing seasons, both were of the 6-7 variety. But aside from their ’05 ten-win season, they’ve hovered around .500 for the decade. Still a pretty good home record even with a down year last year at 3-4, just their second home losing record in the decade (2-4 in ’02).

7) WSU: 56-53 overall – 26-24 at home, 23-25 on the road, 7-3 in neutral sites/bowl games (including 5-2 in Qwest Field). You know the deal here. WSU has fallen down a peg to 7th in the decade. Three straight top-ten finishes in the polls from ’01 through ’03, but home for the holidays ever since. ’06 was promising, at one point 6-3 and ranked, but the season fell apart down the stretch. Still hanging in at over .500 at home, slightly under .500 on the road, but nearly a .500 record overall. Interesting that WSU is nearly a .500 school all-time? According to the WSU media guide, since 1894, WSU’s combined record is 494-484-45 (45 ties?? YUCK!). So, I guess one could say that the 2K decade has gone just about the same as WSU has done in it’s entire body of work/history? Some great heights, some ugly depths, but basically hovering near .500.

8) UW: 44-64 overall– 29-29 at home, 14-32 on the road, 1-3 in neutral sites/bowl games. Like last year, this is where you see a big separation from the rest of the teams. UW has 13 fewer wins that WSU, 17 fewer that UCLA in the decade. 0-12 is a huge anchor on their record, but this isn’t a one-year fluke. You have to remember where UW was when the decade started to wrap your head around this thing. 11-1 and Rose Bowl champs in 2000, 8-4 in 2001, 7-6 in 2002 and even 6-6 in 2003. It all fell apart in ’04 though, a 1-10 campaign considered by many as one of the worst teams in UW history….at least until ’08 happened. But anyway, that ’04 season ended a string of 27 straight non-losing seasons, but it’s been down in the dumps ever since. Now with five consecutive losing seasons and on their fourth different coach this decade, it’s been a mind-bending fall down the ladder.

You know the weirdest thing of all? Not so much the overall record, I mean that is a surprise when you consider where UW used to sit in the pecking order. But they are now an even .500 at home after going 0-7 in Husky stadium last year. Remember Husky Stadium, back in the 90’s? That place used to freakin’ SHAKE it was so loud. One of the most intimidating venues in the country, teams used to relieve themselves down one leg when they lined up and heard that crowd. Times have certainly changed in Montlake. But it’s a new era, so we’ll see if they can recapture that setting that used to be a complete nightmare for opposing teams.

9) Arizona: 41-64 overall – 25-34 at home, 15-30 on the road, 1-0 in neutral site/bowl games. After last year’s 8-5 season, they have inched past Stanford for #9 in the conference. While still 9 games under .500 at home, they did go 5-2 in Tucson, their second home-winning record this decade (4-2 in ’07). They do have a realistic shot at catching UW, just three wins behind them for 8th place in the decade with this ’09 season yet to come. But they are trending upward and may have turned a corner after last season’s bowl-win over BYU.

10) Stanford: 39-64 overall – 23-30 at home, 16-33 on the road, 0-1 in neutral sites/bowl games. Another big separation from the rest of the PAC, Stanford still has just one winning season this decade (9-3 in ’01). But they are clearly making progress under Jim Harbaugh. However, even after a promising 5-7 mark last year, they have fallen to 10th place in the conference. But, considering Harbaugh inherited one of the worst recent teams in PAC-10 history (1-11 in ’06), they are now 9-15 under Captain Comeback. They continued to struggle on the road though, just one victory away from home last year (@UW). But they are on the rise, and we think they are staring at bowl-eligibility this year for just the second time this decade.

So there you have it. No surprises at the very top, a still-nice surprise at Oregon State at number three, and a high-riser in CAL at number four.

That’s it for a Wednesday. Enjoy it, and as always, GO COUGS!

Big Game

January 31, 2009

Happy superbowl weekend to you, Cougar Nation! Hope you had a great week.

Well today, we play the no-longer-Mildcats.

After playing like also-rans for much of the first half of the Pac-10 slate, Arizona now has the look of the team that I predicted to win the conference (COUGH! COUGH!)

When you turn on the game today, you are going to hear the announcers talk about a couple of key head-to-head match-ups. They are:

1. Baynes v. Hill

2. Rochestie v Wise

3. Budinger v. Thompson

While those match-ups are certainly important, they really do not reflect what this game is really about:

BALL PRESSURE. (insert your 3rd grade joke here)

As we have seen all year, we don’t respond well to ball pressure. And, Arizona presses all the fricking time. So, how we handle that pressure is the real key to the game.

So, with that all in mind, here are a few things to watch for:

1) AZ’s field goal percentage. To press, you have to make shots. If you don’t make shots, you can’t press. Watch how well AZ shoots early, it will be a key to the tempo of the game. The cut-off is about 41%. They shoot better than that, they win. They shoot less than that and its a ball game.

2) AZ’s journey to the charity stripe. The more they go to the line, the more they press. They don’t go to the line, no press. To keep that number down, we need to limit transition opportunities and protect Wise from getting into the paint.

3) How we react after beating the first wave of pressure. And obvious tendency of breaking the first wave of the press is to attack the basket. We need to do that today, but we also need to be selective in how and WHEN we attack. Teams that press usually do so to hurry up the game. So patience will be a huge virtue for us. So, when we attack the rim it needs to be later in the shot clock.

4) Youth, youth, youth. With few exceptions, ALL of our big W’s have come with major contributions from our freshmen. To win today, Capers and Casto need to get many more minutes than Daven, Nick, and the rest.

5) Caleb. We need him to step up big today with that midrange game. He plays well (scores in 12-15 point range) and we win today.

Prediction: As I said last week, I like the way we match up with Devils. I HATE our match-up with AZ.

Arizona 65 WSU 53
But if I’m wrong, we are EXACTLY where we were at the end of the first half last year. This would be a MASSIVE win and sweep.

GO COUGS. WIN THIS GAME!!!!

The 2K Decade – How the Pac-10 Has Fared

August 1, 2008

There were some interesting comments to come out of our own Rooster’s picks from Monday. Misguided as some of them were, as the muscle-bound anonymous was out to hate on us, well, someone brought up a good point in taking a look at how the NW schools have done since Y2K. I took a look at the conference beginning with the 2000 season, and thought the numbers were not only interesting, but deserving of it’s own post. So here goes:

Here’s all 10 teams in the conference starting from Y2K (neutral site records includes bowl games and non-traditional home sites for either team):

1) USC: 81-21 overall – 41-8 at home, 33-11 on the road, 7-2 in neutral sites. No surprise here. An amazing string of at least 11 wins since the 2002 season, including the 2004 13-0 record. What was interesting was that they started out 5-7 and 6-6 for the first two years, yet have lost just eight games over the last six seasons. The perception has been that it’s USC and then everyone else fighting for second place. Hard to argue against that in any way, shape or form when you look at the numbers!

2) Oregon: 67-32 overall – 39-12 at home, 25-16 away, 3-4 in neutral sites. A rough 2004 season where they went 5-6 is the only non-winning season in the decade. An impressive 25-8 non-conference record, and not just against Cupcake State either, as the Quack Attack hasn’t shied away from scheduling an “A” game. And the Autzen Stadium home-field advantage is strong as advertised. 39-12 is nothing to sneeze at. I was impressed with their road record, and their conference record was strong at 42-24, including three seasons of 7-1 (2000, 2001 and 2005).

3) Oregon State: 63-36 overall – 38-11 at home, 20-24 on the road, 5-1 in neutral sites. The surprise obviously is how good they have been the last eight seasons. You can also see how strong the Reser Stadium advantage really is. Remember, prior to the 1999 season, Oregon State had a 28-year streak of LOSING seasons. While Dennis Erickson gets a lot of credit for turning things around, you cannot help but be impressed by the work of Mike Riley. Erickson initially won with many of the players Riley recruited, and since Riley returned in 2003, the Beavs have had just one losing season(5-6 in ’05). A huge tip of the cap toward the plucky Beavs. They should be proud of the program they have become.

4) UCLA: 56-43 – 35-14 at home, 19-24 on the road, 2-5 in neutral sites. While people love to rip on the Bruins and their fall from the elite, well, it’s not THAT bad. Just two losing seasons, and both were 6-7 affairs (2007 and 2003). Still, aside from their 2005 10-2 breakthrough, they’ve hovered just above the .500 mark. The home record is pretty impressive, and even though they’ve gone just 13-13 the last two seasons, they have gone 10-3 at home. Only one losing season at home, 2-4 in 2002, they’ve won 16 of their last 19 games in the Rose Bowl.

5) ASU: 56-43 – 37-16 at home, 17-23 on the road, 2-4 in neutral sites. I guess the big surprise to me was the road record. I knew they were good at home, and if you’ve been to a game in Tempe before you know that they do have a strong home-field advantage. But I didn’t realize they were six games under .500 on the road the last eight seasons. Similar to UCLA, they have at least had two big breakthrough seasons, 9-3 in 2004 and 10-3 in 2007. Only two losing seasons, 5-7 in ’03 and 4-7 in ’01, but otherwise they’ve hung in at the .500 mark. Interesting flip in their conference record, where they are just 31-35, yet out of conference, 25-8.

6) WSU: 54-41 – 24-20 at home, 23-19 on the road, 7-2 in neutral sites (including 5-1 in Seattle). We know all too well the story here. An unprecedented three straight top-ten finishes in the polls from 2001 through 2003, but it’s been a bowl-less drought ever since. 2006 was promising, at one point 6-3 and ranked, but the season fell apart due to injuries and finished with bitter 6-6 pill that really began the Doba Must Go talk. I thought the road record was interesting, a better mark that Oregon State, ASU, UCLA and Cal. But just 24-20 at home kind of sucks doesn’t it? The trip to Pullman is a bitch, and the small stadium can be as loud as any other Pac-10 venue when it’s packed due to how close the fans are to the action, but to be just 4 above .500 isn’t good enough. Maybe that will change with Wulff.

7) CAL: 54-44 – 30-18 at home, 20-24 on the road, 4-2 in neutral sites. Cal has recovered nicely from a disaster to start the decade, where they went 3-8 in 2000 and a brutal 1-10 in 2001 (where have you gone, Tom Holmoe??). Last year’s fade is on everyone’s brain, but Cal has still won at least seven games since 2002. Interesting was their conference record, just 32-34, but an impressive 22-10 OOC.

8) UW: 44-52 – 29-22 at home, 14-27 on the road, 1-3 in neutral sites. This is where you see a big separation from the rest of the teams, with UW at 10 fewer wins than WSU and Cal. Even eight games under .500, they are still seven games over .500 at home. But the home field clearly isn’t what it used to be. And the road record is rough. The thing is, UW started out hot this decade, rolling to 11-1 in 2000 and then it was 8-4 in 2001, 7-6 in 2002 and 6-6 in 2003. The bottom fell out in 2004, a 1-10 campaign considered by many the worst UW team in school history. The 2004 season was the first non-winning season in 27 years, but it’s been tough to climb out of the hole, now four straight losing seasons.

9) Stanford: 34-57 – 19-29 at home, 15-27 on the road, 0-1 in neutral sites. Another big separation from the rest of the PAC, Stanford with 10 fewer wins than 8th place UW. Just one winning season, a 9-3 campaign in 2001, Ty Willie’s last in Palo Alto. The worst was 2006, a 1-11 season considered not only the worst Stanford team in school history, but many rate it as one of the worst Pac-10 teams ever. And talk about no home-field advantage – they are just 3-16 in their last 19 home games. WOW that’s bad.

10) Arizona: 33-59 – 20-32 at home, 13-27 on the road (no neutral site games). I was surprised they were behind Stanford, but, when you consider AZ has been bowl-less since the 1998 Holiday Bowl, well, I guess it makes sense. Included in their record is an abysmal 19-47 record against the conference (WOW), but 14-12 outside the PAC. Their worst showing was 2003, where they finished 2-10, nearly had a player revolt against John Mackovic, and were actually outgained in conference play by 144 yards per game. AZ actually went 4-2 at home last year, the first time this decade they’ve had a winning home slate.

So there you have it, the conference since the new millennium. While the top three should hold firm in USC, Oregon and probably Oregon State, there could be a lot of movement from the rest of the teams as we play out the decade. And aside from USC’s domination in every way, shape and form, what do you think have been the biggest storylines so far? I would put Oregon State’s arrival as a legit bowl team as a big story. And sorry UW fans, but your fall from grace this decade has to be acknowledged. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Don’t forget the Paul Wulff chat today at 11 AM.

And what do you know, today is 8/1. Are we really starting the season at the end of THIS month? Back-to-school ads already appearing in newspapers and TV? Where did the summer go??

AND AS ALWAYS, HAPPY FRIDAY TO Y’ALL, AND GO COUGS!

Pac-10 Sneak-a-Peek

July 21, 2008

With Pac-10 media day on Thursday, it’s time for our two cents (and they are a worthless two cents, if you believe the grumpy, crusty “couch slouch”, Norman Chad. When Chad isn’t hating on a growing medium that is both entertaining and informative, you’ll find him yelling at those kids to “GET OFF MY LAWN!” Or better yet, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for the GREAT OZ has spoken!).


Anywho, here’s a sneak peek at the Pac-10, at least from these worthless, uninformed eyes:

1) USC – I dare you to find anyone who hasn’t picked them to win the conference, and for good reason. The defense is going to be a nightmare, with maybe the best defensive players in the conference on the d-line (Fili Moala at d-tackle) inside-and-outside linebackers (Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing), and safety (Taylor Mays). They are a sight to behold.

But offensively, hmm. Something seems a little off. Maybe it’s because everyone knows QB Mark Sanchez can be special, but he hasn’t yet inspired the masses that he’s the next great thing. But the kid has barely had a chance to work the room. Let him have a few drinks and get comfortable, then judge his game! Or maybe it’s that the WR corps have, thus far, failed to live up to the hype. They are All-Airport (you know, you see them in the airport and think OH MY GOD how are we going to stop these guys??) but the on-field production hasn’t been there compared to guys like Mike Williams or Dwayne Jarrett.

All that said, this is still USC. Nobody can match the overall talent, and of course, Pete Carroll has the magic touch with five-star talent. The home conference schedule is extremely favorable this year (Oregon, ASU and Cal all at home) so they’ll win their seventh Pac-10 title in a row. Think about that for a second. They have won at least a share of the championship for six consecutive years, and likely their seventh this year. I know it’s still considered a small “sample size”, but isn’t it time to stop proclaiming Pete Carroll as not just one of the best right now, but start talking him up as one of the best ever? 76-14 in a high-pressured job in a tough conference is unbelievable. There’s no greater pressure than winning big when everyone – EVERYONE – expects it. WSU Football Blog continues it’s man-crush on Pete Carroll.

2) ASU – I think the offense really takes off this year in Rudy’s last season as the changes Erickson implemented in the spring will help the offense. Rudy struggled with injuries and was beaten to a pulp with the well-publicized 55 sacks, but he still threw for 3200+ yards and a 25/10 TD-to-INT ratio. He could improve on that with another year in the system and with Erickson’s tweaks.

On D, eight of their top 11 tacklers are back, and their d-ends in Luis Vasquez and Dexter Davis are probably the best pass-rushing combo’s in the conference. They will be tough up front.

The Pac-10 schedule is rough though, at Cal and at USC in a tough two-game stretch to start October. And of course, they play a top-ranked UGA team to cap off September, so we’ll see what they look like after that one. All that said, I had a hard time between ASU and Oregon with #2. But I went with the Devils based on a second year of Erickson and the senior QB element. Plus, Oregon comes to Tempe on 10/25, and that game will decide second place.

3) Oregon – Losing Dennis Dixon and J-Stew and all those yards and TD’s from last year’s 9-win team would normally cause a panic in Eugene. But not this year. In a style we aren’t used to, Oregon’s D is going to rule the day. DE Nick Reed is the top pass-rusher in the conference, coming off a 12-sack season. Reed is undersized but has that high-revving motor that NFL teams dream of. And oh, that secondary. I will go as far as to say that Oregon’s threesome of Jairus Byrd and Walter Thurmond III at corner is the number-one corner combo in the Pac-10, and has to be in the top 2 or 3 sets of starters in the nation. They are that good. And Patrick Chung as that rover/strong safety combo is just a fantastic senior who could contend for Pac-10 defensive player of the year honors.

But the cupboard isn’t totally bare on offense either. There is still impact talent at WR with Jaison Williams, at RB with Jeremiah Johnson and maybe the top newcomer in the conference this year in the mack truck known as JC transfer LeGarrette Blount. Finally, Nate Costa is going to be really, really good in this QB-friendly offense once he gets his feet wet.

With a relatively soft first month of the schedule, he’ll have the time to get comfortable. Our fine-feathered friends are, at worst, the #3 team in the conference this year. The main reason I have them #3 is the five conference road games (at WSU, at USC, at ASU, at Cal, and at OSU in the Civil War), which is against at least three bowl teams.

4) CAL – The star-power has left the building at Cal, and there are tons of questions on offense. Who will be the QB? Can Jahvid Best recover from injuries to be the top running back? And how is the running back depth now that Justin Forsett has graduated and James Montgomery transferred to WSU? The receiving corps suffered the most damage, losing the top five pass-catchers from ’07. Backup TE Cameron Morrah is the leading receiver coming back with a mere 13 catches for 155 yards? Yikes.

Defense will have to carry the load early, and they do look up to the task. They are going to a pure 3-4 defense this season behind former Coug Bob Gregory’s leadership as DC. 12 of the top 15 tacklers from last year are returning in ’08, including six of the starting front-seven from 2007. The linebackers in particular are loaded, with Zach Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder all experienced seniors. Outside of USC those guys are as good as you’ll find in the west. They COMBINED for an amazing 270 tackles last year(!).

The schedule doesn’t look too bad, with five Pac-10 home games, including Oregon and ASU, however they do go to the Coliseum to face USC in early November. But maybe the biggest question of all – can they recover from their big-time fold job of 2007?? They did rally to win their bowl game vs. Air Force, but otherwise lost 6 of their last 7 games. The damage done from that Oregon State home loss was remarkable, and to see a team with so many weapons just completely go into a shell is one of the most head-scratching things I’ve ever seen in this conference.

5) Arizona – Offensively throwing the ball Arizona is unmatched in the conference. Nobody has the scheme, QB and receivers that they do, led by Willie Tuitama. The top four pass-catchers return, as well as nine of the top 11 total from 2007. Top WR Mike Thomas is smallish, but catches everything in sight and reminds me a lot of the Bobby Engram-type, a guy you under-estimate because of his size but at the end of the day you look at his numbers and go WOW. Hard to argue with 83 catches, 1000+ yards and 11 TD’s. They have to run a heck of a lot better than they did last year however. They were an abysmal 114th in the nation in rushing in ’07, but the talent is there with Nic Grigsby, who averaged 4.4 yards per carry as a true frosh last year. And just an average-at-best running game would do wonders for getting the ball into the endzone. All that passing offense that finished 10th in the country in throwing the football only managed 28 points per game, good for a very mediocre 56th-ranked scoring offense.

The defense is loaded with new faces, as only four seniors will start and just three total starters are back from last year. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There was talk of some bad apples spoiling the whole bunch from last year’s D, and flushing the lousy attitudes could be the best thing for them. They lose seven of their top nine tacklers from last year, but #2 tackler, linebacker Ronnie Palmer, is back. He should be a big-time leader of the defense.

The schedule is the clincher for me . Idaho, Toledo and New Mexico leads to one of the softest non-conference schedules in the conference, if not the nation. Win those first three games and with 12 games on the schedule, they are already halfway to bowl-eligibility. And with five Pac-10 home games, well, it’s time. Arizona has been predicted to break through for the last few years, and finally, 2008 is THE YEAR they do it.

6) Oregon State – The QB situation is unclear, where it still sounds as though one day it’s Lyle Moevao, the next it’s Sean Canfield. Neither guy overwhelmed last year, and while Moevao gets the ink for winning his four starts at the end of last year, his passing numbers “reeked” (52%, 2 TD’s, 6 INT’s). Canfield struggled as well, throwing for more yards that Moevao (1661 vs. 876) but he tossed 15 INT’s in nine games before getting injured vs. USC in the last part of 2007. Most likely Moevao gets the job to open 2008. The skill positions look OK, led by the return of Sammie Stroughter as one of the most explosive players in the conference now that a disasterous 2007 is behind him. But they lose a true workhorse in Yvenson Bernard at tailback, and combined with some losses on the O-line with Roy Scheuning and Kyle DeVan, it could be a tough year offensively.

The bad news is that the defense has suffered some huge losses. The nastiest front-7 around against the run last year, the Beavers lose ALL STARTERS from the d-line and linebackers from ’07. They are also dealing with the loss of projected starter Bryan Payton at free safety, who abruptly left the program this summer, and the early-season suspension of Al Afalava.

The schedule doesn’t look too bad though. USC, Cal, Oregon and ASU all come to Corvallis, where the Beavs have gone an impressive 38-11 since 2000. Reser Stadium is a tough place to win, period. They go to Happy Valley to face Penn State in week two, and they also play at a tough Utah team on a Thursday night TV game, but otherwise it’s a schedule that could be another bowl season. While they won’t worm their way into the top-3, and they lose so much in terms of defense and a key guy like Bernard, they still have enough to get to 6th place. I don’t think this is the year that Riley’s magic touch runs out.

7) UCLA – The offense is, well, a mess. The QB’s are injured, but at least Ben Olson should be in uniform this fall. You can’t say the same for Patrick Cowan. But even Olson is taking baby steps, just now rounding into shape by doing easy treadmill workouts in recovering from a broken foot. He’s been banged up and not exactly productive over his career anyway, so even if he is upright and ready by the opener, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what you are going to get out of him this season. They could have RB Kahlil Bell back, and when healthy he’s pretty special. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry but was lost with an ACL injury and still remains a bit of a question mark for 2008. And all that is the GOOD NEWS?? The bad news of all is the O-line, or what’s left of it. They were already beyond thin coming into spring ball, but now this summer they lost a projected starter at tackle, Sean Sheller, to an ATV accident. They only have 16 combined starts out of all their offensive lineman, ranking #114 in the nation coming into ’08. Combine those question marks up front with an immobile QB in Olson, and it could be a long, tough season trying to move the football.

The defense will really have to improve in ’08 if they have any hope at a bowl game. They were a pretty good #29 in the nation in total defense last year, but they lost six pretty good starters from that group heading into this season. They still have some studs though, in linebackers Reggie Carter and Kyle Bosworth. And their d-tackle combo of Brian Price and Brigham Harwell will cause havoc up front.

The schedule is unforgiving, opening with Tennessee on a Monday night Labor Day special, and then after a bye they head to BYU, a team many are saying will upset the BCS apple cart. They also go to Oregon, Cal and ASU, and of course, the Neuheisel Bowl in Seattle in mid-November. This just in – UW fans HATE Neuheisel. And while Neuheisel will be a breath of fresh air, and he’s armed with the best offensive and defensive coordinator in the conference, this will be a very difficult season in Westwood.

8) Washington – Yes, Jake Locker is a phenom. He is the best running back in the conference back for 2008, and could probably start at running back, linebacker or safety on any team in the Pac-10. He’s breath-taking as a pure athletic marvel, like a faster version of John Elway. He might be the greatest running QB in Pac-10 history when it’s all said and done. But the passing game? Not yet. The worst completion percentage of any starter in the Pac-10 last year at 47%, plus a 14-15 TD/INT ratio shows a ton of room for improvement. Then you mix in that seven of the top nine receivers are gone from last year, and the top two back in ’08 are Michael Gottlieb and Curtis Shaw? Uh-oh. There is a TON of buzz on the young skill guys, however, and true frosh Chris Polk is touted as one of the fastest skill guys at Washington since Napoleon Kaufman. But it’s still a group in diapers, and they are going to have to learn how to crawl before they can run circles around Pac-10 defenses.

The defense will be better. I mean it has to be, right? The worst defense in school history last year, giving up a miserable 446 yards per game, they are pulling out all the stops by nabbing former NFL coordinator Ed Donatell to revamp everything. Will it work? Are college kids ready to fly with Donatell’s complex NFL schemes? The early word is that things are going to be better based on how the defense played this spring, but, it’s still a new system. But Donatell has the NFL credit to his name, and will command respect from the first practice. The talent is another issue. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim is big-time as a pass rushing force at defensive end and could be first-team all-conference, but the rest of the d-line is wet behind the ears. Leading tackler EJ Savannah is back, but he broke his arm in a freak spring arm wrestling accident and while he should be ready to play this fall, he’s battled some injuries to his neck and shoulder his whole UW career. You have to wonder if the mileage is catching up to him and if he’ll be the same player in 2008. The secondary will be better, with some experience back there in three out of four starters from last year. Mesphin Forrester should have a big senior season after recording an impressive 93 tackles from the corner position last year.

Oh yeah, the schedule? BRUTAL. At Oregon to start the 2008 campaign, with all those young skill kids to start the year? It could unravel in a hurry. Then it’s home for BYU, as mentioned before a real darling of the non-BCS types. The week after that, top-5 power Oklahoma rolls into town. They also get Notre Dame later in the season. Overall they have five Pac-10 road games, including at USC, at Oregon, at Cal, at Arizona and of course, at Pullman for the Apple Cup. While Locker should improve as a passer, and the defense will be better, they still might not have the wins to show for it.

9) WSU – I’m sorry. I didn’t want to do this. But if you have ever read our stuff over the years, there’s one thing we don’t do, and that’s run wild with blind homer-ism. And I look at the rest of the conference, I just see this as where we will end up.

I won’t go into the deep details as to our offense, defense and schedule, because you likely know as much as there is to know right now on this team. But taking off the crimson glasses and stepping far enough away from it, here’s what I see:

1) An inexperienced QB in a brand new system.
2) An unsettled running back situation with injury (Tardy) and academic (Ivory) questions.
3) A talented WR group, but it’s young, and it loses three of the top four from last year in Michael Bumpus, Charles Dillon and Jed Collins.
4) Unproven kicking game where one of Wade Penner, Patrick Rooney and the new JC guy will be a starter for the first time.

On defense, we have eight of the top nine tacklers back from 2007, but this from the 85th ranked defense in 2007. They improved by a wide margin down the stretch of the season, but, part of that improvement could be laid at the feet of the quality of the offensive opponent (Stanford, UCLA and Oregon State were in the lower half of Pac-10 teams in total offense last year). We are thin as hell at tackle, where A’i Ahmu will have to magically stay healthy for the first time in his career, and the other tackle is an unproven JC guy in Bernard Wolfgramm, Josh Luapo or fill-in guys like Matt Eichelberger. I love our linebackers, and moving Andy Mattingly to D-end could turn out to be the best move this staff could pull off when it’s all said and done. Mattingly is a beast in every sense of the word, and with his quickness and power off the edge, he could cause a lot of miserable Saturday afternoons for opposing tackles. I love Jody Sears and Chris Ball as co-coordinators, and they are already saying to get ready for eight in the box and a commitment to stopping the run, but the lack of depth at tackle could be a huge problem that could trickle-down to all areas of the defense.

The schedule isn’t too bad. Okie State is going to be a headache offensively, very much resembling Oregon from last year in terms of scheme and balance in throwing and running the ball. But defensively they were pretty bad, finishing a whopping 101st in the nation in total defense last year. After hosting Cal in week two, we go to Baylor, a team widely picked at the bottom of the Big 12. Then it’s home for Portland State before Oregon comes to town on 9/27. That first month is going to be an adventure, as there are so many unknowns at this point.

I know this is all worst-case-scenario, and it’s a gloomy outlook. Who knows, maybe everything comes together on offense and Rogers-to-Gibson will be a weekly headline. Maybe the running game comes together behind four O-line starters from 2007. Maybe the defense improves like we believe it will under the new direction of Ball and Sears. And maybe we stay healthy and the dreaded “d” word – depth – doesn’t become as issue. And yeah, that’s why the play the games, after all, and we will always have hope. But this is how I see it.

10 – Stanford – 2008 might not be quite as bad as last year, but it could still be a big-time struggle on offense. QB Tavita Pritchard didn’t have a stellar spring, and even though he started seven games last year, beat USC and is on top of the depth chart after practice sessions, it still sounds as though the job is open. Jason Forcier, a transfer from Michigan, will be in the mix to at least compete for the backup job, if not get some snaps with the 1’s. WR Richard Sherman looks like the top returning offensive weapon. Sherman had a team-high 651 receiving yards, averaging a strong 16.7 yards per catch to go with 4 TD’s. Sherman has really good quickness and size for the position (6-3, 190). WR’s Mark Bradford and Evan Moore combined for 90 catches last year, but both have finally moved on. Yet Sherman should still be a weapon to be accounted for on every snap.

Stanford has nine starters back on defense, the most among Pac-10 teams for 2008. That includes their three best defensive linemen and their entire starting LB corps. LB Clinton Snyder is the top guy on D. The senior is huge at 6-4, 241, and had 96 tackles last year, averaging 8 per game. He also had eight sacks, showing his all-around versatility. But they lost their d-coordinator Scott Shafer to Michigan. Shafer is though of as a defensive guru with a very bright future. But that said, it might be time for a new voice. Stanford finished 107th against the pass, and 98th in total defense, so maybe a new DC isn’t the worst thing in the world. You could also put some blame on the lackluster D towards the feeble offense. Nothing deflates a defense more than constantly having to come back on the field after yet another three-and-out by the offense. If the O can at least inch closer to average this year, the defense should benefit tremendously.

Stanford’s schedule is a little odd. They play their first two games against Pac-1o foes, opening at home vs. the Beavers on a Thursday night, August 28th game before heading to Tempe to take on the Sun Devils on September 6th. They don’t play out of conference until at TCU on the 13th, their third game of the season. But they play a total of seven road games, and that will be their undoing. While they are headed in the right direction, 2008 will still be tough. Losing their WR depth will hurt, and the QB situation still looks unsettled. Combine all that with the idea that they have seven road games next season, including at ASU, at Oregon and at Cal, it’s not a stretch to see a 10th place finish. But I will say this – this could be the last year in a while that we see them down here. Times are changing at Palo Alto, and Harbaugh has things headed in the right direction. Stanford is great in so many other sports, and I have a feeling that football isn’t going to languish much longer.

So there you have it. My thoughts on the conference, 2008-style. Look for more this week from Brinkhater, Hooty and Rooster as they share their 2K8 opinions on the Pac-10. Most of all, HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

Spring Fish Wrap – AZ Mildcats Edition

June 17, 2008

Great weather, nice stadium that seats over 56,000, great hoops program…..but a football team that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 1998?? What is it with Arizona’s football program that they just can’t seem to put it together? It’s a hard thing to put your finger on. You would think from a distance anyway that they should be successful, but for whatever the reason, it’s been a long, dry spell without success.

Maybe part of the deal has been their choice of coaches since Dick Tomey was relieved of the job. Tomey had a strong run of success, racking up a 95-64-4 record and seven bowl games in 14 seasons before losing his job with a 5-6 record after the 2000 season. John Mackovic anyone?? DISASTER, going 10-18 and a mid-season firing, where things got so bad he nearly had a player revolt on his hands. They turned to the hot young assistant in Stoops from Oklahoma beginning in 2004, and it has been an uphill climb ever since.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Arizona, I think of the fantastic desert swarm defenses led by Tedy Bruschi. I also think of that heartbreaking 1994 loss, where the Palouse Posse and the desert swarm went toe-to-toe for 60 minutes. Speaking of toe, I will always remember watching Tony “The TOE” Truant slowly setting up for a field goal, while the play clock was winding down 3….2….1. I’ll never forget looking over at the WSU sideline, and the ENTIRE FLIPPIN‘ TEAM was going APE, screaming TIME OUT! TIME OUT! But the players on the field never called it in time, delay of game penalty was called, and the next play Truant’s kick was wide left and 10 yards short from the moment toe hit leather. What a sad ending to a hell of a defensive fist fight.

I also think of Ortege Jenkins flipping the ball over his shoulder (illegally, I might add) in overtime, a thrilling 35-34 WSU win in 1997.

By the way, in that game, if you were there or watching on TV, does anyone remember Jenkins complaining to the ref about crowd noise during the 4th quarter and overtime? To the point the ref warned the crowd to be quiet?? I was there, and there were MAYBE 30,000 fans in the stands that day. First of all, I never knew a crowd noise rule existed in the Pac-10, let alone college football in general. If it does or did exist, it certainly was never enforced. But for the refs to actually stop play to ask the Martin Stadium faithful to be quiet?? UNBELIEVABLE. Granted this happened in 1997, long before blogs that waste your time like this one were even thought of. If something like that happened today, it would be all over ESPN, Sportline, Cougfan, AOL Fanhouse, you name it! Whatever.

Anyway, I also remember a great 12-1 season in 1998, beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl and finishing #3 or #4 in several polls. Since then? Not so much. Not only do they have this bowl drought going on, but did you know they are the only Pac-10 team that hasn’t yet won the conference title? Granted they haven’t been in the conference too long, just since 1978, but still, it hasn’t been easy.

Which brings us to the coach that has redefined the hot seat – Mike Stoops. Over the last three or so seasons, Stoops has his name firmly planted on top of the annual “hot seat” lists. Win now, or else! But these last two years have seen a major escape by Stoops, who lives on to see yet another season. In 2006, they started out a miserable 2-4, and the clamour was rising that the time had come to pull the plug. But in somewhat-Oregon-State fashion, the ‘Cats circled the wagons, going 4-2 to finish the year at a bowl-eligible 6-6. Stoops was saved, the program was heading in the right direction, he finally had a non-losing season in year three of the rebuilding job. But then 2007 happened, and they were right back in 2006. This time they started out a lousy 2-6, and the obituary was being finalized in all the local rags. THERE WAS NO WAY HE’LL SURVIVE THIS ONE! But Arizona once again finished strong, winning three of their last four to finish 5-7. And Stoops, again, survives.

So, is this the end? 17-31 in four years would get you fired in a lot of places. After all, Doba took the fall with a much stronger 30-29 record. Yet here we are. Read on to see what 2008 looks like for the Mildcats:

2007: 5-7, 4-5 in the Pac-10. 3-1 finish to the year saves Stoops from the chopping block. Also ruined Oregon’s BCS hopes by beating down the Ducks, 34-24 in Tucson, where Dennis Dixon tore his ACL. Ouch.

OFFENSIVE SCHEME: PASS! That’s pretty much it. Spread ’em out and throw, throw, throw. It’s the Dykes offense, led by OC Sonny Dykes, who came from the Texas Tech Red Raider offense in 2007 to completely overhaul the snooze-fest that was the Arizona offense. QB Willie Tuitama had a fantastic first year in the new scheme, leading the conference in TD’s with 28, and second in the league with over 3600 yards passing. Overall, Arizona’s offense went from scoring just 16 points per game in 2006 to 28 points per game in 2007.

The running game, however, was brutal. 76.7 yards per game, #114 in the nation! They do have a talented sophomore tailback in Nic Grigsby, who had over 700 yards rushing (and he shredded our Cougs to the tune of 262 total yards, including 186 yards rushing and 76 yards receiving. Double-Ouch.).

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: It has to be Willie Tuitama. The senior (wow, he’s a senior already?) took to the shotgun passing offense better than many thought he would. His numbers were great last year (3683 passing yards, 28-12 TD/INT ratio, 62% completion percentage, and a QB rating of 134.24). He’s got excellent size at 6-3, 220, and stayed healthy for the first time in 2007 after battling concussion problems in ’05 and ’06. He is the perfect fit in a quick-hitting passing attack. He should not only be an all-conference candidate, but he is a serious threat to the offensive player-of-the-year award in the Pac-10.

Sorry to do this…but…2007, Tuitama had his greatest game vs. our Cougs. 346 yards, FIVE TD’s, zero INT’s in a 48-20 rout in the desert.

The biggest concern for Pac-10 defenses? Arizona welcomes back a conference-high TEN starters on offense this fall. The only new starter is left tackle James Tretheway, but even he’s an experienced senior. Otherwise they are all back. They return at least six players who caught 20 or more balls last year, including the top WR in the conference in Mike Thomas. Thomas had 83 catches and 11 TD’s, but, clearly you can’t just focus on Thomas to slow them down.

The one to really keep an eye on is rising TE Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski had a huge game vs. WSU last year (then again, who on Arizona didn’t have a big game against us last year?), with 115 yards and two TD’s. The true frosh had over 500 yards receiving last year, and the 6-6, 260-pounder is a future all-everything performer who should be a force this season.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: A 4-3 attack. They had been somewhat conservative on D, but this spring they have already stated they will blitz more than ever. An emphasis was placed on blitz packages, and a renewed focus on gang-tackling and everyone flying to the football.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER: While senior free-safety Nate Ness led the team with five INT’s last year and returns as the leader of the secondary, the honors go to linebacker Ronnie Palmer.


Palmer was number two on the team with 83 tackles. He’s a big, 6-3, 245-lb physical force against the run and will compete for all-conference honors this year as the leader of the Arizona defense.

TOP SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) Yes, they will score points and rack up yards against pretty much everyone. But with only three starters back, can they stop anyone?

It is a daunting proposition to only have three defensive starters back. But the new focus this spring on blitzing and energy on defense was important. And, new faces might not be a bad thing in the grand scheme. Last year they returned an impressive nine starters on defense, but they underachieved for most of the season. They were 59th in scoring defense, and a disappointing 71st against the pass, despite having two NFL prospects with corners Antoine Cason and Wilrey Fontenot. Cason will especially be missed, a four-year starter who was a first-round pick in April. But again, fresh bodies could be the best thing to happen to the defense. Apparently there were issues last year, where some bad apples were rumored to spoil the whole thing.

2) They couldn’t run last year. Does it matter in their offense?

No matter how many yards and TD’s Tuitama hangs on people this year, you do at least need some semblance of a running game. 114th in the nation last year isn’t going to cut it this year, and could be the most underrated key to their offense this year. An aerial assault is fun to watch, but at times you have to have the ability to move the chains, or more importantly, devour some game clock if/when you have a late lead. Live by the pass, but you can die by the pass just as well. They do have the talent in Grigsby, who could be a 1,000-yard threat now that he has a full season under his belt. So it’s not like they don’t have the ability to run. They just need to figure it out.

WSU Football Blog Bottom Line: WSU will be getting Arizona on November 8th. Hope for the November chill and swirling winds to whip through the Palouse. Otherwise it could be a tough one. That said, we might be getting them at just the right time. They will be coming off a bye, but before that, they’ll be finishing a tough two-game home stretch vs. Cal (10/18) and the monster, USC, on 10/25. Also, the game after WSU, Arizona is set to go to Oregon on 11/15. Depending on how their season is going, it could be a serious trap game.

Why would I call WSU a “trap game” for Arizona? Because, well, I’m calling it right now – Arizona has the look of a real surprise team of 2008. Senior QB with a ton of starters back, a fresh look and new energy on defense, and most of all, the schedule?? CUP-CAKE CITY. How does Idaho, Toledo and New Mexico sound for an out-of-conference schedule to begin the year? With 12 games on the schedule, if they start out 3-0, as they should, they are halfway to bowl-eligibility.

At least Stoops better hope they are the surprise team. With all these factors in their favor, if they get ANOTHER non-bowl season?? It’s Good night, and good luck!

ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY!