Pac10 Roundtable - Week 1

Well, Addicted To Quack is organizing this whole Pac10 Roundtable thing.  8 out of 10 of the Pac10 teams (Boo Stanford and Arizona!!) have blogs that get together to discuss the news of the day.  We share stories, swap buttons, and basically learn more about the mysterious ways of the other warring factions.  For example, did you know that up in Oregon there is apparently a team named for a slang term for vagina?  Me neither! What if they were to take on the University of South Carolina Gamecocks?  Only hilarity could ensue!  Hilarity and VD.  But mostly hilarity.

Oregon State will be represented by Building the Dam.  The Washington schools chime in with The WSU Football Blog and our newest SBN blog, UW Dawg Pound.  Conquest Chronicles and What's Bruin, Dawg? corner the SoCal market.  Finally, Pitchfork Nation comes to us from the hot state of Arizona. 

With our powers combined, we ARE the Pac10 Roundtable!

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"We're the blond chick!"  -  Image via api.ning.com

1.  Not a lot of people predicted UCLA's upset of Tennessee.  UCLA was something terrible last year, and with major losses to graduation and and very unresolved quarterback situation, it wasn't unreasonable to expect them to hover in the bottom half of the conference.  While the offense had its problems (only 29 yards rushing and four picks), the defense was phenomenal, holding the Vols to a smidge over 300 yards, picking up two turnovers, and blocking a punt for a touchdown.  Is UCLA for real?  And can they be in the mix with ASU, USC, Oregon, and Cal for one of the top four spots in the conference?

It is, inevitably, one game.  And a game against a team so bad that they lost to UCLA (UCLA!).  Yes, the UCLA D made a statement on Monday, but it's easier to key in on stopping the run when Tennessee QB Crompton could't hit the broadside of a barn with another barn. 

Last year Cal had a rather more impressive victory over Tennessee to start the year and we saw how that turned out.  I feel as if the game said less about UCLA's For Realz-ness and more about Tennessee's Lack Of For Realz-ness.  I mean they held their opponent to 29 yards rushing and got 4 picks and they STILL couldn't win against UCLA's Z team. 

But look, this could be the springboard to something bigger.  Neu is a master at motivation and charm, kind of like TwistNHook, but uglier (Ed Note:  Why did we let Twist back to the keyboard? Why?).  If anybody can use this victory as a stepping stone to future success, it is him.  Will Neu be able to turn this miracle win into long-term success?  Probably not. 

But at least the Pac10 looks mildly better!

2.  Meanwhile, it's same old same old for the Washington Huskies.  Washington was walloped by Oregon for the fifth year in a row and, with BYU and Oklahoma coming up for their next two games, it's hard to see where a win will come any time soon.  I don't see any games on the schedule that they should win and, other than WSU and Notre Dame, there aren't a lot that I'm even convinced that they can win.  The defense is Swiss cheese, and, other than Jake Locker, there isn't even any real talent on the offensive side of the ball either.

Less than a decade ago, Washington was a prominent national contender.  Now, they may have less talent than any other team in the conference.  We're all aware of the rich tradition of Husky football, the question is how did things fall so far so fast, and how does UW get back to its customary winning ways?

Well, if you're wondering what caused UW's precipitous tumble beneath mediocrity, I think you have to look no further than the revolving door that has been their head coaching position.  Neuheisal's last couple years weren't spectacular, but they weren't program-killing, either.  However, his messy, messy divorce from UW over a stupid college basketball bracket was really a punch in the gut to the program, and the Huskies' swift hiring of an overmatched Keith Gilbertson only compounded the problem.  By the time Ty Willingham was hired 2 years later, the Huskies were a 1-10 mess, something Willingham has only been able to marginally improve.

I always thought Willingham was a better coach than his record at UW has been, but perhaps not.  In any case, he hasn't gotten any help from whoever made his schedules.  The non-conference schedule for UW between 2006-08 consists of: San Jose State, Oklahoma (twice!), Fresno State, Boise State, Syracuse, Ohio State, Hawai'i, BYU, and Notre Dame.  That's championship-caliber scheduling right there, the kind of slate you play when you're trying to win a national title, not when you're trying to rebuild a program.  If the Huskies want to really get back on track, they need to schedule more San Jose States and fewer Oklahomas.

As for rebuilding, well, the problem is talent.  Talent, talent, talent, talent.  You never a never-ending stream of it.  Having a lame duck coach hurts that.  Pretty much everybody knows that Ty is gonna get fired sooner or later here.  He needs a huge season to stave off the axe and that seems highly unlikely.  Having this lame duck coach does not help the situation, because players aren't going to want to play for a coach who will be gone before they even get there.  And god knows the other Pac10 coaches use that to their advantage.  "Why go play for UDub, it's going to be a whole new system up there soon anyway." 

They took a chance with Ty after he was abruptly fired from Notre Dame.  Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that it worked out.  And it doesn't look like they'll get any stronger until after he is gone, because the situation hampers recruiting.  They have some talent up there.  Locker has potential and Polk definitely has ability. 

3.  The team that beat Washington, Oregon, looked amazingly good, especially on defense.  Moreover, after last year's implosion following the Dixon injury, it was a third string quarterback who did most of the damage offensively.  Oregon is talented and deep, but can finally live up to their promise and challenge USC for that conference title?

Firstly, it seems HIGHLY unlikely anybody is challenging USC for the conference title.  Let's be honest here.  Especially a team on its 3rd string QB.  This is not a knock at Oregon.  Oregon looked to be one of the premier teams in all of the Pac10.  But USC is just too good.  So, instead of looking at #1, let's look at #2.  Can Oregon be the second best team in the Pac10?  At the start of the pre-season, that answer seemed like a solid YES.  Their D seems incredibly stout and Jeremiah Johnson is ready to step in for Jonathon Stewart.  

However, football is a game of injuries.  Last year, we saw how bad Oregon fell when it lost its starting QB.  And Cal fans are well aware of what a QB injury can do to a team's success.  Sure, this 3rd stringer looked good against UDub.  But that's UDub.  UDub isn't very good.  Even the UCLA QB could play well against them, throwing only 1-3 interceptions. 

Will this 3rd string QB be able to play as well against the ASUs and USCs of the world as he did against UDub?  That seems like an easily answerable question.  In a tight Pac10 where the difference between 2 and 6 could be very little, these QB injuries could loom large.

4.  California started off strong, exorcising some of last year's demons with their 38-31 home win over Michigan State.  The quarterback controversy appears to be solved, as Kevin Riley clearly outplayed Nate Longshore.  However, 31 points is a lot to give up to a middle of the road Big Ten team, and other than Jahvid Best, there isn't a lot in the way of proven talent at the skill positions.  Many Pac-10 observers have Cal ranked in the top four of the conference.  Is that ranking justified give the collapse of last season and lack of returning starters offensively, or did Cal benefit from their reputation?

Firstly, 14 of those 31 points came in unique situations.  7 from a Longshore pick six, which HOPEFULLY we won't come close to for a while.  Another 7 from a VERY short field thanks to a poor longsnap on a punt.  The Cal long-snapper (Nick Sundberg) is one of the best in the game and that was something like his 2nd muffed snap in 3+ years.  So, I don't see those situations occurring again.  Just my opinion.  But foo
tball is a game played on the field and not in the minds of bloggers.  Those 14 points occured and no amount of "Wouldas" or "Shouldas" will take them back. 

Certainly, we are going to say the ranking is justified.  We'll point to TE Cameron Morrah and FB Will Tuoalofueofksjdiq13 as talent at the skill positions (not to mention our stable of RBs).  We'll tout the defense led by 4 amazing LBs and SydGOD Thompson.  A defense that pretty much wholly shut down a premier RB when his QB COULD hit the broadside of a barn. 

So, does Cal get a bit of the benefit of the doubt this year, considering their reputation and record the last 6 years?  Absolutely.  But there are solid reasons to give credence to Cal's reputation, not the least of which are the coaching staff's acumen and the solid stable of highly-recruiting talent waiting to take the field.  Sure, the offense will have a few learning moments, but with 3 easier games coming up (WSU, Maryland, Colorado State), they'll have their chance to work on those moments.  With a fairly advantageous schedule this year (other than USC, Cal gets all the tough Pac10 opponents at home), we feel that Cal deserves to be in the Top 4, independent of previous reputation.

But why listen to us?  We're just biased fools.  We thought Nate Longshore wasn't half bad!

5.  Oregon State has a perception problem.  Their long list of early season losses (Cincinnati, Louisville, LSU, Boise State, Fresno State, etc.), was followed up this year with an opening game loss at Stanford.  A road game at Penn State this weekend has many pundits predicting an 0-2 start for the Beavers.  However, in spite of their usually awful starts, the Beavers almost always turn their season around to finish in the upper echelon of the conference.

This causes a talk radio debate to rage in the state of Oregon.  The Oregon Ducks are seen nationally as the more relevant program, mainly due to their very high highs (a legitimate late season national title contender twice in this decade).  However, Beaver fans point out Oregon's semi-regular late season swoons, the fact that Oregon State tends to come back late in the season, and the fact that both teams have similar overall records over the last few seasons to make the point that Oregon State should be on equal footing with the Ducks, if not seen as the more dominant program based on two consecutive Civil War victories.  Who is the more relevant program nationally, and do Oregon State's bad starts contribute to your perceptions?

Well, firstly, it always seems that the University Of is more well known than the State school.  Michigan.  Oklahoma.  Georgia.  Not sure why this is.  So, that's 1 check in Oregons favor. 

Secondly, it is often about the money.  Oregon has a LOT of it.  Nike money.  And they aren't afraid to show it off.  Crazy facilities.  Crazy uniforms.  Crazy NYC billboards for the Heisman.  How many East Coasters care about the Civil War?  Now, how many read about how Joey Harrington had a 4,000 foot tall billboard on the side of a Manhattan building.

Sure, OSU actually BEAT USC a few years back.  Sure, OSU has quietly had a few solid years, doing better than even Cal.  But, you are right, perception is reality.  And Oregon does a much better job at creating perception.  Oregon is the louder team on and off the field.  And in college football, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  As simple as that.

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