Archive for the ‘Stanford Football’ 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!

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Spring Fish Wrap – Jim Harbaugh’s Edition

May 5, 2009


Welcome to another year of “Spring Fish Wraps”. You may not remember, but last year, we decided to tackle each team on the WSU schedule and take a close look at them, post-spring football condition. Why? To try to get a feel for what to expect in the upcoming season, that’s why.

Why use the term “fish wrap”? It’s a self-hating thing. You know, this article sucks so bad I wouldn’t wrap dead fish with it? Or line the bird cage with it, etc. But it’s a play on words to also wrap up the spring…..get it??

Anyway, I have to admit that doing something like this was/is educational to say the least. At least for me it is. It’s a good idea to dig deep on each team and see for yourself what is going on outside of Pullman. You can see some of last year’s Fish Wraps here (or just search “spring fish wrap” in the blog search window at the top of this page).

That said, time to look at game one for 2009. And what do you know, the rebuilding Jim Harbaugh’s/Stanford Cardinal invade Pullman on September 5th to kick it all off.


What do we have to look forward to? Read on and see the WSU Football Blog angle to Stanford…

LAST YEAR: 5-7 overall, 4-5 in the PAC-10.
LAST YEAR vs. WSU: A humiliating 58-0 wipeout on a damp track in Palo Alto.

Stanford ran over the WSU D for a season-high 344 rushing yards(!), led by Toby Gerhart’s four TD runs, all in the first half as Stanford sprinted to a 31-0 lead. And, uh, WOW were we bad last year!

STANFORD FANS ARE: Pretty happy. Maybe not completely thrilled, but pretty happy with the direction. The rebuilding under Captain Comeback took another step forward last year, just one victory from getting back to the postseason since Ty Willingham’s fleece vest roamed the now-defunct Seattle Bowl sidelines in 2001.


It’s been a while. But to think that they were just one win away from a bowl game, when two short seasons ago in 2006, Stanford was a one-win disaster? An outfit so bad it was being debated as to their place in the all-time WORST PAC-10 teams of all-time? How can Stanford fans be anything but thrilled right now? Ask yourself, if WSU was to be one win from a post-season bid in 2009 in year two of the rebuilding job, after the train wreck of 2008, wouldn’t you take that?? Anyway, the fans believe in Harbaugh, and he has this thing going places.

OFFENSIVE SCHEMES: Stanford offensively keeps things fairly close to the vest. Not your spread scheme by any means, they are more of a traditional pro-set/west coast offense look that you see out of a USC or even UW in the Sarkisian era. Look for a fullback and a tight-end on several occasions, and a lot of snaps with the QB directly under center.

OFFENSIVE RATINGS: Stanford did improve offensively last year, coming off a dreadful 2007 in which they were trolling near the bottom ten in several categories. In ’07, they were 102nd in the nation in rushing offense, and 107th in total offense. Fast forward to 2008, and it’s better. 84th in scoring offense, but an even higher 67th in total offense. In the PAC-10 rankings, Stanford was sixth in scoring offense and total offense. But while the passing game was lacking, ahead of ONLY WSU in passing yards per game(!), they did finish SECOND in the league in rushing offense at 199.6 ypg. So overall, not exactly an offensive powerhouse, but they are getting better.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME
: Like they are on offense, they are traditional on defense, relying on the basic 4-3 attack. But they will mix things up by blitzing linebackers to bring pressure. And again, Stanford showed improvement.

DEFENSIVE RATINGS: Another area with some improvement. In ’07, they were 98th in the country in total defense. In ’08, they moved up to 76th. In the conference, they were slightly below average, finishing sixth in scoring defense, ninth in pass defense, seventh in rushing defense and seventh in total defense. This isn’t your ’85 Chicago Bears defense (or anything close). But again, they ARE improving.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER:
RB Toby Gerhart.


This one’s easy. Toby Gerhart was the heart and soul of the Stanford offense last year, and really THE GUY for the entire team. Gerhart gashed the Cougs for four TD runs in the first half of the 58-0 blowout, but he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. Far from it actually. Gerhart would finish third in the PAC-10 with 1136 rushing yards, averaging an impressive 5.4 yards per carry. But he was even more impressive getting into the endzone, finishing was second in the conference with 15 rushing TD’s. Absolutely stacked at 6-1, 232 lbs, the guy is a horse.

In watching the video, it’s pretty clear that if you get a helmet on Gerhart, you better wrap him up! The guy is not only powerful enough to run you over, but he breaks tackles as well as any back in the conference. But not only does he have that power, he’s also got that little extra “gear” to where he can outrun the defense. Check out some of those runs vs. Oregon State, where he gets to the sideline and then runs away from the defense. SERIOUSLY impressive!

Along with CAL’s Jahvid Best and Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers, Gerhart is one of the top running backs in the west, and he will compete for all-conference honors.

And for what it’s worth, Gerhart is one heck of a baseball player as well. There was even some talk that if he had a big baseball season this year for the Cardinal, he could go pro in the upcoming June MLB draft.


But alas, Gerhart hasn’t had the big season some expected from him on the diamond, hitting .272 with five HR’s this year. So yep, expect him to line up at tailback on September 5th. WONDERFUL.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER:
Safety Bo McNally.

McNally had a fantastic all-around year for Stanford in ’08, leading the team in tackles (76), including 6.5 for loss. But he knew what he was doing in the secondary, also leading the team in interceptions (4). He’ll be the senior leader of the defense. Not an NFL prototype safety at 6-0, 205, he’s still pretty quick and is a very good tackler. He will contend for all-conference honors as one of the top safeties returning in 2009. While Gerhart leads the offense, McNally is the heart and soul of the Cardinal D.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING QUESTIONS:

1) What’s the deal with the QB’s?? Another year, another QB “situation” at Stanford. Last year Tavita Pritchard (yes, Jack Thompson’s nephew) won the job. But he did “a’ight”, but certainly didn’t torch the opposing defense. Pritchard would throw for just 1633 yards and 10 TD’s in 2008, leading Stanford to the ninth-rated passing offense in the conference. Granted, Stanford’s offensive coaches didn’t ask him to do too much, but Pritchard couldn’t escape the turnover bug. He threw 15 INT’s, and that’s just too many when you aren’t even primarily a passing offense. As we all know (far too well I might add!), turnovers KILL offenses, and they just can’t have that again. So, Harbaugh has now officially given the keys to the offense over to none other than hotshot QB prospect Andrew Luck.


Luck is a big-time QB prospect who comes straight out of central casting. Big (6-4, 227), strong, and even some good wheels with a reported 4.7 40-time, Luck was highly recruited out of Houston, Texas. But instead of heading to a usual NCAA powerhouse, Luck shocked everyone when he picked Harbaugh and the Cardinal when he signed in 2008. He was a top-5 QB in every recruiting service around, and regarded as one of the top 50 or so players in the country when Harbaugh reeled him in. The best part is what Luck did this spring when given a shot at unseating the established Pritchard. He threw for an amazing 352 yards and FIVE TD’s in the Cardinal spring game, basically assuring everyone that this is Luck’s job. That’s a kid who wants a job. So get ready to see the redshirt QB under center in Pullman September 5th.

2) How’s the schedule? Pretty mild if you want to know the truth. After opening in Pullman, they do have to travel across the country the following week to take on Wake Forest. But then it’s Palo Alto for three in a row vs. San Jose St, UW and UCLA, all winnable games at home. A 4-1 start isn’t out of the question. While they do have to travel to Oregon State and USC later in the year, they get Oregon, Cal and ASU all at home. And of course there’s the traditional Notre Dame game to close the season, also in Palo Alto. Phil Steele ranks their schedule as #71 in the country. Safe to say that the schedule looks to be Stanford’s friend this year.

3) Sounds good. But isn’t Stanford just a little too young this year? Actually they do look pretty green, projected to return just 15 starters this fall. And that includes starting a brand new QB in Andrew Luck. While Luck looks like a star on the rise, he hasn’t taken an NCAA snap. Kids can look great in scrimmages, and they can carry around the press clippings from glory days gone by, but you just never really know until the lights go on and it gets real in a hurry. And what kind of help will Luck have in the passing game? Wide receivers Ryan Whalen and Doug Baldwin were 1-2 on the team in receptions last year, and they are both back for ’09. But after those two, the next leading receiver coming back is none other than Toby Gerhart, who caught 13 balls out of the backfield.

To make things a little more shaky on Stanford’s QB situation, third-stringer Alex Loukas tore up his knee this spring and will be out for the beginning of 2009. Meaning that Tavita Pritchard, the same guy who was beaten out for the QB job and is now the backup, will likely be the only QB among the top three on the depth chart who has thrown an actual pass in a game situation to start the year.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: The first game is always a dicey proposition. You see teams bust their butts all summer long, and so much focus is put on game number one. It’s like the driving motivation for all that hard work, and you hope it all pays off. But weird things tend to happen early in the year. In fact, last year Oregon State went down to Palo Alto to open up the 2008 season, and they LOST to the Cardinal in what was regarded as a bit of an upset. Nobody knew just how big at the time though, as really that loss kept the Beavers out of Pasadena! Had Oregon State won that game, the Civil War loss to Oregon would have been irrelevant as the Rose Bowl bid would have already been secured. And that game was mistake-filled by OSU, as the Cardinal finished at +3 in turnover margin. The first-game yips were evident, as it can be especially tough when you open the season on the road.

But that said, we can’t exactly erase 58-0 from the memory banks, can we? After all, Stanford just sledgehammered the Cougar D, time and again. The Cougs also turned the ball over FIVE times, compared to zero for Stanford, so that had a lot to do with it. But when you can’t do the basics like stopping the opponent from running for 344 yards on you, you are in for a long day.

Obviously the key for WSU this year will be to crowd the line of scrimmage and commit to stopping the run. If they can somehow do that, and put young Luck in obvious passing situations, they have a shot. But if Gerhart is constantly getting 5, 6, 7 yards per carry and moving the chains, it could be another long day defensively. But we’ll get to all that stuff later this year, Football Friday style…..

For now, I have to say that I like the looks of Stanford. Even though Luck is young, he looks the part. They should be better through the air. Combine that with the return of Gerhart to bring balance to the offense, and given Stanford’s lower-level schedule? 2009 sure looks promising for a return to the postseason. Not bad for year three in what was thought to be a massive rebuilding job.

That’s it for today. Enjoy your Tuesday, and GO COUGS!

Never Too Early for a Preview?

April 10, 2009


So it’s early. VERY early, as in, it’s not even Easter yet. But is it too early for a preview or two? Hard to say, I mean spring practice sessions are still in full force all over the country, and fall camp? Can’t even fathom it, it’s so far in the distance.

That said, CollegeFootballNews.com has rolled out a semi-kinda-sorta preview. In a semi-kinda-sorta preview, I mean it’s basically a paragraph on each PAC-10 team. But it does it in such a way that it looks at the schedules of each program in the PAC-10, and at least attempts to project a best case/realistic/hide the women and children, 2008-WSU TITANIC disaster. So what do they say about the Cougs?

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Realistic best case record for this schedule: 7-5
Barring total disaster worst case record: 2-10
Realistic record: 3-9

You can get the rest here, including their logic behind the numbers. HOORAY previews.

3-9 is realistic? Ain’t that a kick in the ass. But they are way, WAY OFF here. I was thinking at least 4-8!

In all seriousness, it’s nice to look at now, but it’s just too early isn’t it? We’ve still got Phil Steele, Athlon’s, Lindy’s, and all the rest to show up starting in June or somewhere in there to carry us through the summer. Let’s at least let teams finish spring before we start going off on this kind of thing.

Moving on to other stuff….

Teddy “Football” of ESPN gives some details on USC’s Bush-Mayo-Gate, now conveniently rolled into ONE JUICY NCAA INVESTIGATION! Just makes it easier to streamline the efforts, doesn’t it? But as Miller says, this isn’t good news for SC:

What does this mean?

If you’re a bigger fan of USC football than basketball, it should feel worrisome.

And this:

By connecting the two cases, the NCAA appears to be now reviewing these investigations as systemic problems within USC’s athletic department.

Yes, we’re talking about the dreaded “lack of institutional control.”

You think about the Paul Wulff issues from EWU, they were things that the NCAA deemed should have been under control by Wulff, the athletic department, the university as a whole (hole??). But Miller’s reasoning is strong, in that the Bush case is more about Bush and the guys feeding him cash, and that the coaches and athletic department could play pretty dumb on this one. But NOT the Mayo case. Combine them into one stinking mess, AND a new PAC-10 commish takes charge on 7/1? It might be example-setting time for the boys from Troy.

So has the law finally caught up to USC? Will “Rome” fall?

Well, whatever happens with the Trojans, at least we can thank USC for a wonderful showing last fall that led to a temporary change to our Blog header:


Martin Stadium was a Field of Dreams that day….”The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.” – James Earl Jones

69-0? 69-0?? Did that really happen?? Simply A”meh”zing.

Finally, our first opponent in 2009, Stanford lost a backup QB. Not a big deal on the surface, sure. But it’s QB Alex Loukas, and he should be out until mid-October (clearly not available for the opener vs. WSU on 9/5).

The issue here is that losing Loukas leaves the Cardinal with just two QB’s, Tavita Pritchard and Andrew Luck. There is an incoming frosh, Josh Nunes, who will be available this fall, but as the article says, this likely leaves just two QB’s on their roster “who are capable of making important throws in game situations.”

We’ll get into Stanford later, as well as every other team on the WSU schedule with our “spring fish wraps” beginning in early May. We’ll tackle two teams a week, taking a look at them post-spring ball style and see what we’re in for this fall.

ENJOY YOUR FRIDAY, and GO COUGS!

Casto-Way

February 5, 2009

Happy post-signing day to you Cougar Nation.

Well, now that we know that Coach Paul weathered the storm of last year, we can focus on trying to keep our streak of NCAA tournaments alive for one more year.

And, like I noted earlier in the week, I believe that our fortunes lie principally in this one stinking game tonight against the trees.

Now that we’re halfway through the conference slate, we know that just about anyone in the conference is good enough to beat anyone on a given night. So, with that in mind, it is entirely possible that Anthony Goods and Lawrence Hill come out tonight, hit 54% of their 3 point attempts, and blow us out of Maples Pavilion.

But, if you harken back to our second half blitz against Stanford the last time we played them, you know that the athleticism of Casto turned that game around.

And tonight, we need him again.

To win tonight, we simply need to exploit the MASSIVE advantage that we have over Stanford in the paint. And, we also need to close out on the shooters behind the arc and then make them shoot over Casto and Baynes in the lane. We do that, we win. If we don’t, we won’t.

But I think we will. This is the exact type of game where our coaching and development are going to shine through. Baynes gets about 18 and 11 tonight and the rest of the team plays well.

WSU 62 Stanford 54.

Win this game and we’re one game back in the L column from 3rd place!! Lose and we’re in 9th.

This is a really big game.

Need a Reason to Care Today?

November 1, 2008

Happy flag day, once again. For what it’s worth there was a good write-up in the USA Today about the WSU flag. Kind of cool to get some national pub, so check it out.


So today the Cougs take their vaudeville act on the road. This traveling mockery of the sport of football will face a resurgent Stanford team down on the Farm and I am sure many of you are wondering if there is any reason to tune in to the Bob-Rob and Jim radio-only broadcast. I say, emphatically, yes. Yes there is. This weekend you will get to see the vicarious fulfillment of Longball’s childhood dreams. As promised by Coach Wulff, a Pullman Greyhound and native son of the Palouse will take the field as quarterback of the Washington State Cougars.

Admittedly this dream-come-true could end up in 7 interceptions and a broken leg, but for now let me indulge in the hometown hero, scrappy underdog, legacy fulfilling, made-for-TV glory of JT Levenseller’s unlikely rise to quarterback of Quarterback U. Now you all know his dad, and by now you’ve probably heard the prophetic inspiration for the name JT, Jack Thompson. His name represents both ends of one of the greatest Cougar passing attacks of all time. Seriously, this story writes itself.

Three years ago I was in the Tacoma Dome as JT, a Jr. in high school at the time, led Pullman to a state championship over a powerhouse Arch Bishop Murphy team. The victory was sealed by a late game drive capped off by a game winning touchdown pass from JT to his buddy Aaron Pflugrad (does that name sound familiar?). These guys were good. In fact they were so good that year they beat a Prosser team that finished runner-up in the state finals in the division above them. They started their season by blowing out a Hazen team that went to the state playoffs two divisions above them. That team’s success was in no small part due to the leadership, competitiveness, and raw athleticism of their field general, JT Levenseller.

As a kid who grew up in Pullman dreaming of doing what JT is about to do this Saturday, my analytical powers may be compromised by an imagination run wild. I really, really want JT to be the next great QB to lead the Cougars. It would be the fulfillment of a great Cougar legacy and an enormous source of pride to us Pullman natives. But my optimism is also based in the reality that in JT the Cougs have a great athlete, fierce competitor and a proven leader.

So today, sometime late in the first half (3rd or 4th series according to Wulff), I will be holding my breath as JT gets his chance under center. With the state of our team, his opportunity to shine is definitely limited. Our expectations should be tempered by the ominous facts Brinkhater and Sedihawk alluded to in their predictions, not the least of these being the Furd’s vaunted pass rush. But don’t be surprised if the kid from the Palouse, son of a crimson legend and namesake of one of our all-time greats, shows us the same kind of mettle and fortitude we saw in a scrawny freshman on a balmy night in Hawaii in 1999.

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 – Harbaugh’s Heroes Edition

June 13, 2008

Ah yes, Captain Comeback. We remember him from his NFL days, sure. Not the most skilled guy around, lacking the gun for an arm or all-pro quickness. And Mike Ditka hated his guts (but what QB did Ditka actually like? He even hated the punky QB known as McMahon, even when he led them to 19-1 and a SB title!). But the guy was a gritty veteran that somehow dialed it up when things got hairy. Harbaugh shouldn’t be undersold for his NFL prowess. Check it out, via the always-helpful Wikipedia:

For his NFL career, Harbaugh played in 177 league games with 140 starts. He completed 2,305 of 3,918 passes for 26,288 yards with 129 touchdowns. Particularly during his time with Indianapolis – such as when he led the Colts to come-from-behind wins over the Chiefs and Chargers in 1995-96 playoffs and a near upset over the No. 1 AFC seed Steelers – he earned the nickname “Captain Comeback” (the second player to be so nicknamed after Roger Staubach) for his ability to win games in the fourth quarter after overcoming significant point deficits.

Wow. I knew Harbaugh was a journeyman NFL QB, and had some “shining moments” here and there. But 26,000+ yards? Not too shabby.

That said, I was among many Pac-10 fans who raised eyebrows when Stanford hired him in late ’06. Jim Harbaugh? Really?? Harbaugh was an assistant for some NCAA teams, then an NFL offensive assistant with the Raiders for a few years before he landed the head job at U of San Diego. That, my friends, is where he really showed his coaching chops. San Diego had a lousy program prior to his arrival, but afterwards? Extreme Makeover-time. They went an amazing 22-2 from ’05 – ’06, winning their league title and the “mid-major national title” in both seasons. Harbaugh in three years overall went 29-6. Clearly the guy could coach up 18-22 year olds, but the raised eyebrows deal was based on such little head coaching experience to land a coveted BCS job. Even if said BCS gig was 1-11 Stanford. Now I know some on the outside wondered about our choice of Paul Wulff, based on him never having a D-1 head job. But at least CPW had EIGHT years as a head coach at just one step below D-1, so, he wasn’t nearly the unknown commodity that Harbaugh was in landing the Stanford deal.

A few weeks ago, I ran into an old acquaintance who is a former Stanford player. He played for the Cardinal in the early 90’s, under Bill Walsh of all people. Anyway, we chatted about the program, and naturally, Harbaugh. I expected him to gush about everything Harbaugh has brought to the program, but I didn’t get that vibe. He said that there were a lot of former players still close to the program that were concerned about the choice. Now he did say he’s made a very favorable first impression among the former players and donors. The enthusiasm and energy are completely off the charts, just like it appears from the outside looking in. They also believe he has a good plan and things are headed in the right direction.

Speaking of the USC upset, how about one more look?

I love how out of it the announcers are. Not only do they yell “TOUCHDOWN USC!” when Stanford scores on 4th down, but the color announcer starts saying they are going to go for 2 after the score, even though it’s a tie game!?! Gotta love the VS. network! Another parting gift from outgoing Pac-10 commish Tom Hansen.

But don’t place that order on the marble statue of Harbaugh just yet.

Just like any other Pac-10 program, I guess Stanford fans are like the rest of us. They have a newly-renovated stadium, they are in a desirable place in the country and are an elite high-learning institution. Even with their recent struggles since their last winning season in ’01, they have expectations of at least a bowl-eligible season, if not contending for an upper-division finish. I know the 1-11 record of 2006 stands out, as they were widely regarded as one of the worst Pac-10 teams of all-time that dreadful, dark year. But they did win 9 games as recently as 2001. They were almost bowl-eligible in 2005, going 5-6. And who could forget that the hated Trent Edwards led the Cardinal to wins over WSU in ’04 and ’05. Trent Edwards, Trent Edwards, TRENT EDWARDS (sort of like the Seinfeld episode where Steinbrenner explains why he traded Jay Buhner: “My scouts kept saying, Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps, KEN PHELPS!”) So we’re not exactly talking dumpster-diving here.

But as this Stanford acquaintance told me, hey, the kids are at least smart! Combine their brains with the passion and energy of Harbaugh, and they might have something special, sooner rather than later. And they have been very successful in other sports, such as hoops and even baseball, so, why can’t they win again in football? Hard to argue with him at that point.

All that said, where are Harbaugh’s Heroes today, spring fish-wrap style? Let’s see.

2007: 4-8, 3-6 in the Pac-10, tied for 7th. But perhaps the biggest Pac-10 upset of all-time, winning at USC as a widely-regarded 40 or more point ‘dogs.

Amazing catch to win it too. I don’t think that video above did it enough justice.

Offensive Scheme: Traditional west-coast offense, with a running back, fullback and tight-end on typical plays. Another team that hasn’t moved forward with the rage of the read-option shotgun attack. David Shaw was the offensive coordinator last year, a guy with a lot of NFL assistant experience and Harbaugh brought him to Stanford after Shaw was his OC at San Diego in ’06. That said, it was a ROUGH first year. Stanford’s offense was, well, brutal last year. 102nd running the ball, 105th in scoring offense, and overall, 107th in the nation in total offense. That’s good for “bottom ten” in the nation. Part of those struggles can be laid at the feet of the QB’s, as the starter heading into the ’07 campaign, TC Ostrander, struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

He was ultimately replaced by the one that got away from WSU, of course, in Tavita Pritchard (by now you probably know the back-story here, but Pritchard is from Clover Park in Tacoma. Big deal, right? He’s also Jack Thompson’s nephew, and wanted to be a Cougar, but strangely wasn’t really recruited much by the prior staff. Oh well.). Overall, an avert-your-eyes season with Stanford whenever they had the football. 2008 might not be quite as bad, but it could still be a big-time struggle on offense. 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.

Top Offensive Player: 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). Sherman was 2nd on the team in catches, but his yards per game were good enough for 10th in the entire Pac-10. The junior-to-be caught nine balls for 91 yards in their spring game, so he looks like he might be on the verge of a real break-out ’08 season.

The scary part for Sherman is that he’s suddenly the biggest man on campus at the WR spot. 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. Some of the video I watched of him reminded me a little of Brandon Gibson in terms of body type and the same kind of hands and athleticism. Here’s one TD catch he had vs. San Jose ST last year:

Defensive Scheme: Another 4-3 defense, but Stanford will attack and blitz to bring pressure. They good news is that they have 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. But the bad news? They lost their d-coordinator Scott Shafer to Michigan. That is regarded as a loss, as Shafer is though of as a defensive guru with a very bright future. But that said, even with Shafer they were pretty bad on D last year. 107th against the pass, 98th in total defense. But one could put some of the blame on 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 offense can at least inch closer to average this year, the defense should benefit tremendously.

Top Defensive Player: Stanford has a couple of names that could work here, what with nine returning starters and all. But I’m going with LB Clinton Snyder. The senior is huge at 6-4, 241, and moves well for a linebacker of that girth. He had 96 tackles last year, averaging 8 per game, placing him 9th in the conference. He also had eight sacks, showing his all-around versatility. Here’s an impressive sack-and-fumble recovery vs. Cal last year in the Big Game, a 20-13 win over the Berkeley Bears:

TOP Spring Questions:

1) With Pritchard starting so many games last year and having the ultimate upset of SC under his belt, why is their QB situation unsettled?

Not an easy answer, but I think the biggest thing is really two-fold: First, Pritchard didn’t set the world on fire with seven starts last year, completing just 50% of his passes and nearly doubled his INT-to-TD ratio (9 int’s, 5 TD’s). He was also sacked 23 times. Statistically his best game was vs. our Cougs in Pullman, where he threw for 263 yards, but with zero TD’s and two costly picks, one which was taken back to the house by Abdullah.

Second, Pritchard will already be a senior. This is only Harbaugh’s second season in Palo Alto, and he may lean towards going younger to develop his program vs. going with Pritchard and then having to start over at the most important position on the field in 2009. There is some pressure to win immediately and improve on the 4 wins from ’08, but if Harbaugh really wants to build for tomorrow he may try and go younger at QB.

2) Even with the QB issues, is there any chance they will improve on offense?

They probably will be better. After all, they do return seven starters on O, and on paper at least, that’s a good thing. But while we highlighted Richard Sherman as the top offensive player, it must also be noted that 651 receiving yards isn’t exactly All-Pac-10 material. When someone with 37 catches last year is labeled as your top returning star in Sherman, you have some issues. That said, the Cardinal running game might be a pleasant surprise in ’08. They did finish 102nd in the nation in running the ball last year, so there is nowhere to go but up! But in the same breath, they do return their top four ball-carriers from last year, led by senior Anthony Kimble. Kimble had injury issues last year and played in only seven games, but he did average 4.4 yards per carry and had a team-high eight TD’s on the ground. All told, the four returning rushers had over 1300 yards combined on the ground. Not fantastic by any stretch, but you can see that the depth in the backfield combined with a big loss at the WR positions will lead to an emphasis on the running game.

Most of all, the O-line looks to be much improved. They return four out of five starters up front, led by Alex Fletcher, an all-conference second-teamer at guard last year. This spring he slid over to center and will start there this fall. But the most talented of them all is left tackle Allen Smith, but he’s coming off a knee injury. It remains to be seen if he’ll be ready by the opener, but if he’s ready to go, the Cardinal running game could be formidable.

WSU Football Blog Says: Stanford’s schedule is a little odd. In a weird twist, 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 favored Sun Devils on September 6th. They don’t play out of conference until at TCU on the 13th, their third game of the season. One interesting aspect for when we finally play them on November 1st is that both teams will be coming off bye-weeks.

So, can Harbaugh’s lads take another step after an improved 2007? They did go from one win in ’06 to four wins last year, with the highlight of course the USC stunner. There is some legit momentum behind the program right now. They even got a bump up in recruiting, landing a top-10 QB in Andrew Luck, a big Texas high school star who surprised many by casting his lot with Harbaugh. 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. Outside of Sherman, they lack speed and play-makers on offense, and that could ultimately be their downfall. Combine all that with the idea that they have seven road games next season, and it’s not a stretch to see another 4-win season. But their down times may not last much longer! Get ’em while you can.

ENJOY YOUR FATHER’S DAY WEEKEND!