Archive for the ‘UCLA 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 – UCLA Neuheisel’s Edition

June 16, 2009

Another day, another wrap. This time, a peek at UCLA and Rick Neuheisel.

You remember Neuheisel, right? Golden boy goes home to Westwood, shocks the world to open his era vs. Tennessee, then everything goes downhill from there in a lost 4-8 season? The guy who was, you know, going to take back LA from Pete Carroll??


Ummmm…..yeah.

In all seriousness, it’s early. WAY too early to draw many conclusions about Neuheisel’s ability to raise UCLA from the depth’s plummeted by Karl Dorrell and company. He is going to need a few more solid recruiting classes to get some things straightened out, but without a doubt, this looks like more of a rebuild job than even Rick himself had to see coming when he took the gig last year.

So, are things in fact looking up coming out of spring ball? Or has UCLA’s fall in ’08 buried them in the lower-half of the PAC for another year? Read on for more….

2008: 4-8, including a 3-6 PAC-10 record. The highlight, without question, the season opening shocker at home with the upset victory over Tennessee. The lowlight? Without a doubt, the very next week after the Tennessee highlight, which was a 59-0 embarrassment at the hands of the hated BYU Cougars. But even the 4-8 record might have been a little misleading. Outside of their win over Tennessee, the Bruins swept the Washington schools (who DIDN’T sweep the Washington schools ’08?), and beat Stanford by a field goal. They lost the rest. So a very tough opening act for Neuheisel.

FANS ARE: Eh. They understand the situation, with the lackluster performances by Karl Dorrell setting up the current administration for a lot of tough days at the office. They HATE losing to USC, but they also believe they are on the right track with Neuheisel. However, the honeymoon is clearly over. Fans want to see a much better product next season, especially offensively, or else there could be some real unhappiness in the land of tanned, beautiful people….

LAST TIME vs. WSU: A 28-3 snoozer where neither team was all that impressive. Actually, I take that back. The 28-3 loss to UCLA? Outside of the UW Apple Cup OT thriller, this game in ’08 might have been the best appearance by WSU last year. Seriously. It was 14-3 early in the third quarter after a Nico Grasu field goal, and there was some thought that a play here or there and it could get extremely interesting.


But alas, the WSU offense never got much going in Marshall Lobbestael’s first-ever NCAA road start, as the young redhead went 15-for-31 for just 149 yards. Lobbestael looked nervous and unsure for most of the game, and with very little rushing attack behind him (25 carries, 26 yards), UCLA had Marshall on the run for most of the evening.

OFFENSIVE SYSTEM: A multiple attack in a bit of a west coast “hybrid” under Norm Chow, a system that can utilize a lot of WR’s with various looks. They will use a tight end in an H-back mold, with a lot of motion, but can also spread you out with three-wideout-looks.

’08 OFFENSIVE RATINGS: One of the lower-rated offenses in the conference, UCLA was #8 in the conference in points (17.7) and total offense (283.2 yards per game). Nationally it was just as bad, finishing 109th in scoring and 111th in total offense. Worse though was the running attack, where the Bruins would finish dead LAST in the conference with 82.8 yards per game, as well as a conference-low 2.6 yards per carry. UCLA did finish 6th in the conference in passing yards, at just over 200 yards per game. But they joined WSU and UW as the only PAC-10 teams to finish with single-digit TD passes in ’08 (UCLA had 9, WSU and UW tied for last with 6).

’09 RETURNING OFFENSIVE STARTERS: A whopping NINE starters are back, and they get Logan Paulsen returning at tight end from injury. Experience is a good teacher, so, they will likely be much better with so many starters back….right??

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER: This isn’t an easy choice, as the offense was a bit of a mess in ’08. Tight end Logan Paulsen will be back this year after missing nearly the entire ’08 season, and when healthy, he might be the best player on the UCLA offense. But Paulsen will share some time with Ryan Moya, who emerged in Paulsen’s spot last year as sort of an H-back/tight-end blend and earned 2nd team All-PAC-10 honors. So I will go with Terrence Austin, a WR/kick returning threat who has game-changing abilities.

Austin led the team in catches last year, with 53, as he emerged as the most dependable wideout on the Bruins. But he also led the team in punt returns and kickoff returns. While Austin never brought one back all the way on special teams, he did average 9.5 yards per punt return, as well as a season-high 82-yard kickoff return. He also set school records for all-purpose yards in a season with 1878. Austin should have a big senior year in ’09 and will definitely be on some pre-season all-conference lists in one way or another.

DEFENSIVE SCHEME: This could be a somewhat new look, as UCLA has a new coordinator in Chuck Bullough. Bullough has coached the fine UCLA linebackers the last three years, but now he gets the headset and will be making the defensive calls every Saturday. They roll with a 4-3 scheme, but they might do some things differently under Bullough. Maybe some more blitzing with his talented linebackers??

’08 DEFENSIVE RATINGS: 8th in the conference in scoring defense (29 ppg), 8th in rushing defense (169.8 ypg), and second in passing defense (167.7 ypg). On a bit of a down note, the Bruins were 6th in the conference in pass-efficiency defense, 7th in interceptions, and 8th in sacks, with 21.

’09 RETURNING DEFENSIVE STARTERS: Seven, plus a starter from 2007 in linebacker Kyle Bosworth.

TOP RETURNING DEFENSIVE PLAYER: Now this is tough, but in a good way for UCLA. There are legit all-conference players on the D-line, linebacker and in the secondary. D-tackle Brian Price was outstanding as a sophomore with 14 tackles for loss. Linebacker Reggie Carter is back for his senior year, and he led the team with 83 tackles in ’08 (including 20 tackles vs. BYU). But in the end, I’m going with maybe the best cornerback in the PAC-10 this year in Alterraun Verner.


Verner had an excellent ’08 season, where he led the country in passes defended (20), and added 73 tackles, good for number two on the team. Not that you want your top cover guy to also be a tackling machine, but 73 tackles is awfully impressive no matter how you look at it. He isn’t a huge INT guy, with just eight in his first three years at UCLA, but he’s made the most of it by taking three of them back to the house. I would look for Verner to be the guy that nobody throws at in ’09. So while his INT numbers will likely be down again next season, be ready for all-everything accolades coming his way all year long.

TOP THREE POST-SPRING PRACTICE QUESTIONS:

1) WHAT’S WITH THE QB?? The most important position on the field meets the biggest question for UCLA coming out of spring. And the early reviews were that the QB’s weren’t exactly ready for prime time once spring drills were wrapped. Kevin Prince has a slight lead on some other young candidates, as they love his arm and mobility at the position.


Prince looks the part at the very least – the redshirt frosh is 6-2, 226, and had a strong season of practice last year. Even in a down year, the coaches held off on burning the red-shirt in ’08. Prince still has four full seasons of eligibility. Oh yeah, Kevin Craft, last year’s starter and leading passer with over 2300 yards, is still hanging around for his senior year. But it doesn’t sound like he has much of a shot at winning the job. The staff loves Prince, and even though he didn’t run away and hide from the rest of the field in spring ball, he should be the guy to open the season.

2) OK, THAT’S GREAT ABOUT PRINCE. BUT CAN THE O-LINE KEEP HIM UPRIGHT TO EVEN HAVE A CHANCE? There’s the rub – who exactly can protect this young talent of a QB? It was a long, tough season last year, as UCLA’s unproven offensive line took a whippin’ in ’08. The Bruins gave up 35 sacks, the second-most in the conference last year (WSU “led” with 43 sacks allowed). Per Ted Miller, the Bruin O-line didn’t look like they improved much at all this spring, so there is some serious trepidation that it could be a repeat performance on offense next year. Now consider breaking in a frosh QB who hasn’t yet thrown an NCAA pass with this O-line? GULP.

3) AND OF COURSE, THE SCHEDULE?

UCLA’s got a tough road to respectability in ’09. They open with San Diego State in Pasadena, and that should be a game they will be favored to win. But then they go to Neyland Stadium, where 100,000+ orange-clad Vols fans will be lying in wait. This one will be a big-time revenge game for the ’08 stunner in LA. The last time a PAC-10 team went to Tennessee, it was CAL, who got whooped 35-18 in ’06. After that, the Bruins get Kansas State the following week back home in LA. But even with Tennessee in September, still, a 2-1 record looks plausible to start the year.

It gets sticky in October however. The Bruins play three of their five games this month on the road. After they come off a bye on 9/26, they go to Stanford on 10/3. But then they have to face Oregon and Cal on back-to-back Saturdays, yet the good news there is that both games are in Pasadena. Then they go to Tucson and face Arizona’s tough defense, before heading to Corvallis to close out the month. October is going to have a big say in the success or failure of UCLA in ’09.

WSU FOOTBALL BLOG SEZ: Sort of like Arizona, UCLA may be in a very similar situation. They will need their experienced, talented defense to keep them in games. There is no question they have the front-line talent to do it, and they should be ready to do the heavy lifting while the offense tries to find it’s stride early in the year.

What’s weird is that there were so many talented individuals last year, but they still finished in the bottom-half in the conference in so many defensive categories? A couple of theories were floated last year. One was that the defense was just stopped responding to DeWayne Walker, who eventually left to take the head coaching job at New Mexico State. And let’s face it, getting five-star talent to perform in LA? That can’t be an easy gig! Once those kinds of talents turn a deaf ear to your rants, it is only a matter of time before you either leave on your own or are shown the door by those above you.

The other theory is that UCLA’s defense was strong as can be expected, but they just wore themselves out trying to overcome such a lackluster offense. I mean when the team is in the 100’s nationally in total offense and scoring offense, well, there’s only so much the defense can do to even stay in games, let alone get a bunch of victories. But given what they are returning on defense in ’09, even an average offensive showing next year could vault the Bruins into bowl contention.

They come to WSU on 11/14, and that’s another weird deal. UCLA has had issues playing in Pullman over the years. But it’s not just Pullman. Overall the Cougs are 5-2 in their last seven against the Bruins. The last time UCLA came to Pullman, the Cougars were struggling while the Bruins were hot, sporting a 5-2 record and fresh off an upset win over Cal. But WSU prevailed 27-7 in a game where UCLA never seemed to even want to get off the bus, let alone actually play a college football game. I was in the stands that day, and without a doubt it was one of the flattest efforts I have ever seen from a WSU opponent.

But let’s face it, the Bruins hate to make that trip to Pullman, and they don’t exactly hide their disdain for the Palouse. Get them up in Pullman in mid-November, well, who knows what we’ll see from UCLA.

But overall on UCLA, it’s all about the QB and O-line play. If they are even average, they have a shot at a bowl. Otherwise it’s another year in the bottom-third of the conference.

That’s about it for today. ENJOY YOUR TUESDAY, and as always, GO COUGS!

Pass the bottle…

October 5, 2008


Hello Cougar Nation,

Longball had a fever this week, and Cougar Football Saturday was not the cure. However, at this point for us to give up less than 50 points and retain our consecutive scoring streak, I am tempted to declare tonight’s game a moral victory for the Cougs. Folks, we are bad bad bad, and it sucks to be bad at a time when teams like UCLA are RIPE for the picking. C’est la vie.

I share Brinkhater’s frustration with our offense tonight. I admit that watching our young receivers Jeshua Anderson and Jared Karstetter make nothing but mistakes has tried my patience. Our offensive line is not exactly a force to be reckoned with, and we have a young QB who is still learning on the job. I also share the abolute horror we all have at watching the generosity of our defense. We are officially the team that struggling offenses get “well” against. They just don’t make beer strong enough for us to enjoy Coug games this year.

With that in mind I want you all to take a deep breath, and repeat after me, ready? ok…. We are not good this year, and we wont magically turn good at any point this year. Got that? Now I was at the Oregon debacle last week and I am not exactly sure why anyone expected us to turn around tonight, on the road, and be a completely different team than we have been. Sure folks, there was some “life” on defense tonight, but lets keep in mind that UCLA’s offense has not exactly lit anyone up this year.

We are all fans, which is short for “fanatic” and that means that we are guided by our passion for Cougar football. But lets get real. If Brinkhater was athletic director this week, we would have fired Jody Sears (somehow Chris Ball bears no responsibility for the performance of our defense), then hired him back after tonight, but put the rest of the staff on notice pending the outcome of the Stanford game on the offensive side of the ball. Of course, in all fairness, we also would have finished stage 3 of the stadium renovation and revived our wrestling and gymnastics programs, but I think you get my point.

Now I pick on my esteemed colleague Brinkhater because I have no respect for my elders, and he is the only one to really comment on tonight’s game in depth so far. But the hysteria he exhibits is something that is starting to be endemic in the Cougar nation at large. Its going to take patience, folks. And I don’t mean just wait until next week. I mean more like wait until 2010.

In the meantime lets not be so surprised the next time our defense “plays well enough” (if thats what you call making Kevin freakin Craft look like Troy Aikman) but our offense, led by frosh and sophomores thrown into the fire due to injuries and learning a new system, fails to improve upon the performance of last years senior laden, all-time record holding QB led offense.

In other words, despite our struggles, don’t count me as one who is longing for Alex Brink at this point.

Friday Fun With Video – UCLA and WSU

October 3, 2008

I thought with the current state of affairs around here, it might be nice to look back at some history and feel GOOD about some things? And why not? We’re 1-4, the economy sucks, the political debates rage on where republicans and democrats are CONVINCED they won last night, blah blah blah. Besides, it’s Friday and nobody works Fridays, right?

So, anyway, UCLA. We’ve got this funny little recent history with these guys that is fairly impressive, no? Strange. I’ve looked at it several times, and I still don’t get it. We’ve beaten them when we’ve been awful (3-8 in 1995, beat them 24-15 in Pullman). We’ve beaten them when we’ve been great (1997, beat them 37-34 vs. UCLA in a game that started a history-making season). We clinched a Rose Bowl bid against them in 2002, when Jason Gesser limped through as impressive a performance as many have ever witnessed watching football on the Palouse, a 48-27 win in Mike Price’s last regular season game as the REAL head coach of Washington State. The 37-15 win in ’06, securing what we all thought as a bowl bid with a 6th victory of the season…..but we know how that turned out. Heck, we even beat them last year when UCLA was still pretty good, coming into the Pullman match-up at 5-2 and off a huge win vs. Cal the week before.

So 10 of the last 14, and six of the last seven times, WSU has prevailed. But if you go back a little further, there is one game that more or less started it all, all the way back to 1988. WSU has won 11 of the last 17 in the series if you go back to ’88. But believe you me, it wasn’t always this way…..not even close. What’s amazing is that from 1958 leading up to the 1988 game, UCLA was an amazing 17-1-1 vs. WSU! The Cougs beat them at home in 1979, and tied them in 1981, but otherwise, UCLA had completely owned WSU. But then, 1988 happened. A win that kick-started a strong recent run against UCLA, but also regarded as perhaps the best win in school history.

October 29th, 1988 to be exact, a day that will live forever in the hearts of WSU football fans everywhere.

To do a quick recap, ’88 was a big-time breakthrough season for WSU. After a disappointing 3-7-1 first year at WSU in ’87, Dennis Erickson’s second season was a rousing success, a 9-3 season capped by an Aloha Bowl victory. But what many people forget about that season is that when the UCLA game rolled around, the team needed a victory. They were coming in off a two-game losing streak, including a bitter home loss to ASU the week before, and the team was starting to stagger. After a hot 4-1 start, including huge wins at Illinois (44-7), Minnesota (41-9) and Tennessee (52-24), and at home against #19 Cal (44-13), suddenly they were 4-3 and some doubt was setting in. Perhaps they weren’t for real after all?

Meanwhile, UCLA was crazy/sexy/cool, with Troy Aikman and company as the number-one team in the land. Aikman was a legit Heisman candidate, thriving under the bright lights of the LA market. So the task was huge, and the Cougs got off to a slow start as UCLA sprinted out to a 20-6 halftime lead. It didn’t look good. But WSU rallied, big-time, behind Timm Rosenbach, Tim Stallworth, Rich Swinton, Mike Utley, Chris Dyko, and oh yeah, the current head coach of your Cougars, Paul Wulff, for a stunning 34-30 win. Check out the waning moments, plus the on-the-field interview from Dennis Erickson after the game.

I love how that, even in the situation where UCLA had all the momentum (1st and goal on the 6?), the Cougar D still ATTACKED. Those last two pass plays saw blitzes, and Aikman took some heat. No scaling back at that point, might as well force the issue. But man, the joy Erickson had at the end of that game, with his Dad, how cool was that? Talk about pure joy!

I was too young to be at WSU at the time, but our own Hooty McBoob was a mulleted-up true FROSH in the fall of ’88. He said that, while watching the game in Pullman on TV, when that last 4th-down pass was batted down in the corner of the end zone to seal the deal, you could hear a collective roar all across campus. What a moment. Here’s hoping we’ll experience something similar, again….someday.

Enjoy your Friday, and GO COUGS!

Paul Wulff Radio Show Recap – Week Six

October 1, 2008

I will try and be brief, yet hit the key points. As usual, we’ll jump right in:

  1. Practice report from Tuesday was an “excellent” practice. Everyone came ready to work hard and the coaches were all impressed by the effort and enthusiasm. It’s tough right now, obviously, but they are doing everything they can to remain positive. Have to have the right mindset, and realize that in a brand new system, in just five games they have already started three different quarterbacks, five different offensive line combinations and five different groups of wide receivers/tight ends. For a season of change, it’s been nothing but change across the board every single week, and it’s really difficult to develop continuity/consistency that way.
  2. They are already down to just three QB’s on the roster, so, next Monday, if you are on campus and can play the position? Head on down for TRYOUTS! Right now we simply need the body, period.
  3. Wulff talked about Marshall Ocho Rojo. He thought he did a very good job, considering 1) the quality of the opponent in Oregon, one of the quickest, most physical teams he’ll see all season; 2) the youth of our offensive line and skill positions; 3) the fact that it was his first start, at home, for homecoming. Add it all up and he did just fine. Had three drives that went well, two for TD passes and one other one that he had Brandon Gibson wide open for a TD but missed him. Wulff also said that he has no doubt that Marshall’s game is going to come fast, faster than they expected initially. He’s classy, competitive, hates to make mistakes. He’s an absolute film guy, all the way, and Wulff said right now he’s watching more film than anyone on the roster, coaches included! He is calm, cool, collected, and handles him self extremely well. Wulff has no doubt he will develop into a fine player over the next four years (this is the closest I’ve heard Wulff “gush” about a player on the roster, so, I think you can read between the lines to understand that Lobbestael is going to be THE GUY for the forseeable future).
  4. Wulff mentioned in the open that there will be some new faces, again, in the lineup. Wulff said that Louis Bland will start at linebacker, as he has moved ahead of Ken Dunn. Wulff did gush a little about Bland, in how he was a two-time state champion wrestler, two-time class president, all-state, all-area, all-everything, player of the year, etc. And a really good looking young linebacker. Bland has the mental toughness and physical traits that they want to build the program with going forward, exactly the kind of kid they are looking for. Tyree Toomer will also play this week, although probably as a backup, but he will definitely play in the secondary. Wulff went out of his way to say how both Bland and Toomer are talented, but also showing some tremendous leadership and they’ve only been in the program for a few months. Very impressive kids.
  5. A caller asked about recruiting, and especially about the units they will make a priority going foward. Without hesitation Wulff mentioned (surprise!) the D-line. They need depth, now, and they will spend multiple scholarships on defensive linemen. A quick look at the current commits, and out of six players, three are defensive linemen. We can expect more to come most likely. The caller also asked about the traits they look for in offensive linemen. I thought this was interesting in that Wulff stated for tackles, they are looking for big kids, but they want the lean body types coming out of high school, almost the offensive tackle/tight end kids in that 6-4/6-5, 250-lb range. They want to be able to add the “right kind of weight” on their frames and that the weight they have at a young age is lean. They want their tackles to be quick enough and have good enough footwork to handle the speedy defensive ends that they will face every week. For the guards, they want the thicker kids, but still, ones with a good frame that they can pack on the muscle with proper weight training and nutrition (more on that later). For centers, they want a strong mental player, one that is capable of handling all the line calls on every play, things like that.
  6. Bob-Rob asked about the recruiting process right now. So far it’s gone well, and they are working hard. Wulff stressed that “you have to recruit every single day, or else you will pay for it down the line.” I thought this might have been a bit of a swipe at the prior staff? But Wulff stressed repeatedly how recruiting is 24/7 now, much different compared to back in the day. They watch tape of recruits, write letters, make phone calls, everything they can do on a day-to-day basis. They also are constantly contacting the high school coaches and also are part of some recruiting services where they always get updates on players they are looking for.
  7. Wulff also touched on the relationship with the state of WA coaches. It is a HUGE deal, and he said that the relationship is so good that many of the high school coaches WANT to help and send kids to Wulff! (I know that was touted when he was hired, but I think that will really pay off going forward.) They also have visits every weekend, and just had four kids in for last weekend.
  8. One very cool thing, and an example of the President’s involvement with the program, is that President Floyd actually met with one of the recruits and his family last weekend! Wulff said you will rarely find that at any school in the country, where a President will actually meet with football recruits. It just doesn’t happen very often.
  9. Wulff also touched on his first recruiting class, signed in February. Wulff said that they are all doing well, and the encouraging thing is that nobody has quit the team(!). But seriously, they are all working very hard and are getting a chance to play if they earn it. They all get up at 5:30 in the morning and hit the weight room too, each and every one of them, so the seeds are being planted right now with this group of what it takes to get better. But most of all he said many of them are driven, passionate and there are some very good leaders in this first group.
  10. Wulff was asked about UCLA. He said that they are somewhat similar in that they are down a couple of QB’s as well, and they have a whole new staff. He also stressed that with new staffs come completely new systems, and you have players making many mistakes in the first month of a new regime. It happens everywhere. Wulff stressed that turnovers continue to kill them, and they are now minus-13 in turnover ratio. Once again, that must change immediately if they have hope to get a win. They cannot afford to keep doing it.
  11. Wulff talked about Kevin Craft at UCLA and how he’s played. He said sure, he’s got five INT’s this year, but four of them were in the first half vs. Tennessee. He’s had some rough spots but he’s already doing a better job of taking care of the ball.
  12. A caller asked about the culture and what goes into making changes. Wulff said basically they are trying to set some new, basic standards for what the players will be accountable for. But they are trying to preach about how the right way to do things, things like the weight room and proper nutrition. Wulff said if they don’t take it seriously, especially the nutrition, then they will never reach their peak physically. They must eat correctly, they must do the work in the weight room, or else. The caller asked if they were getting a lot of push-back from the veteran players? Wulff said well, yes and no. He said some of them are happy with the changes and are getting the structure they crave. But others aren’t taking too well to it. But he said it’s nobody’s fault, really, and that it’s just a new way of doing things. People in all walks of life are often resistant to change, that’s no secret. But he said that mainly the older players it’s harder on because they just don’t know any different than what they’ve been taught all along. It’s the old dog/new trick deal, where you are trying to get them to break the bad habits and develop some new ones. It takes time to get there.
  13. Wulff was asked about in-state recruiting and how important that is. He stressed, again, the relationships with the high school coaches and that they’ve got a very good advantage there when it comes to the staff he’s assembled and their experience in recruiting the state. But Wulff said that’s only half the battle, and they still need to entice the kids to stay at “home” as much as they can. They have to WANT to stay home. He also touched on the stadium renovations and how much that will help going forward. That stuff really does help sell recruits and contribute to the gameday experience. He also spoke about the Oregon schools and how much they have put into their facilities, and what do you know, look at how it’s paying off? Both schools have pulled ahead of the WA schools in the northwest, and it’s no coincidence that their facilities improved, so did their records. Wulff truly believes we will close the gap, and sooner rather than later. The biggest thing with recruiting is the opportunity to build layers upon layers of depth, but it simply takes time to get the kids in and then develop them.
  14. Finally, sort of a funny one but Wulff asked Levy today about his thoughts on this year’s team. Levy has been at WSU for 17 years, and has seen some real highs and lows, obviously. But Levy did say that he honestly sees progress, and really believes they are about to show some big improvement. He can see it coming. HOWEVER, Wulff wouldn’t reveal exactly where he rated the 2008 WSU Cougars compared to some of the other teams Levy has been a part of! Needless to say, it’s not hard to figure out where he ranked them. 🙂

That’s about it. I really hope/wish some of you could hear Wulff say these things in his own voice. You hear him speak from the heart, and he sounds as though he really believes they are going about things the right way, and that their system will ultimately prevail. It’s hard NOT to feel better about things after you listen to him. He’s not a RAH-RAH guy, but you can hear his energy and passion about the job in his voice. He’s got to be the rock in all this, but I don’t think anyone is taking these losses harder than he is. Don’t forget about all the personal equity he has in seeing that this thing is a success, and I don’t think anyone is going to work harder than Wulff to see that the job is done.

Monday Morning Ramblings

September 29, 2008

I wonder how they are going to keep these guys motivated. A horrible month of September that saw just one win over a non-BCS team, but otherwise, it was four routs against teams that we are supposed to compete with on a weekly basis. We have heard of it before, where you get 1) a new regime with an entire new, hard-ass approach, 2) there are major issues from day one, and 3) the team falls apart and splits off into different factions as the locker room lawyers and bad apples show their true self during tough times. Numbers one and two have happened, and number three could as well. I don’t envy Wulff right now, and he said as much in today’s Times:

As for whether something is being lost in translation from coaches to players, Wulff said, “We’re asking them to do some different things. In our mind, we’re asking them to be more sound and more disciplined. We’re just struggling, getting kids to execute.”

Oh well. As Wulff said, it’s a one-game season from here on out, and the only thing they will focus on is this week’s opponent, UCLA.

Speaking of UCLA, they are still a work in progress but showed some improvement vs. Fresno State, losing 36-31. The troubling thing about the Bruins? Their running game got on track in a big way, churning through the Bulldogs for 234 yards.

As with any team on the schedule from here on out, the opposition’s goal will be to 1) run, 2) run some more, and finally, 3) run it. Get used to it. Why would any offense do anything else but do the most simple thing in the game, which is handing off and asking your offensive lineman to run block?

I know some people have rallied that with our defensive tackle situation so bleak that maybe they should just go to a 3-4 and play up to their strength? Well, they have done some of that, if you haven’t noticed, and it’s obviously not working. But how about going in another direction? Maybe instead of experimenting with a 3-4, they should go to a FIVE MAN FRONT, almost like a goal-line defense! How about a 5-2 defense? Mullennix, Turpin, Ahmu, Eichelberger and Mattingly all along the front, with Greg Trent and Ken Dunn at linebackers? Bring down Jackson as a rover instead of a strong safety spot, putting eight in the box, while having Hicks play free safety as a centerfielder, right down the middle of the field? It puts your cornerbacks out on an island, sure, but what other choice do they have? Besides, UCLA’s QB play has sucked this year, so there shouldn’t be a whole lot of fear in their passing game. Just roll it out for first and second down, see if you can put the QB in second or third and more than 5 instead of second or third and less than 2. Then go to your regular nickel packages on obvious passing downs. But at this point, anything should be an option, for what they are doing now isn’t even close to working.

You think things are bad in Pullman, well, they are. But how about Seattle right now? UW loses a game they have pointed to as one they had to get, allowing Stanford to waltz to their way to 466 total yards, surpassing their best mark by well over 100 yards on the year. They also lose Jake Locker for 6 weeks, if not more depending on how his broken thumb comes along. Now 0-4 and a huge underdog at Arizona, 0-5 looks pretty likely. What a mess.

Finally, nice going M’s. A 101-loss season is bad enough, and you are now “founders” of the 100-100 club (over $100 million spent in payroll, and at least 100 losses to go with it). But here they were, coming into the weekend, with a lock on the #1 pick in next year’s MLB draft if they just could have lost ONE GAME this weekend. Not two games, not three games. Just ONE more loss. Instead, in a meaningless series in every way, shape and form, they SWEEP THE A’S!?! Meanwhile the Washington Nationals did the right thing, laying down for the weekend and getting swept by the Phillies, giving them the #1 pick?? What a nightmare. Stephen Strasberg, the dominating right-handed power pitcher from San Diego State who routinely hits the upper-90’s on the radar gun and is head and shoulders THE GUY this year, pegged as can’t miss by every scout around. What a great idea to have him in the rotation with Felix and Brandon Morrow and the rest. So even when they win, they lose. PUH-THETIC.

Happy Monday!

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!