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Friday, July 13, 2012

Preseason College Previewkakke: Pac-12 North and Championship

Still a bit surprised something came up in Google Image Search when I typed in "Flying Cougar"

And now we move into the Northern half of the Pac 12. When conferences construct divisions these days they should do it with one thing in mind: “For the love of God, don’t make the Big 12 North.” The mistake the Big 12 made there was assuming that Nebraska could carry an entire division forever, and do it well enough to beat the best team out of Texas/Oklahoma/Texas A&M once every couple years. As everyone saw, this simply didn’t end up working out. Every big program has lulls, and when Nebraska went into a lull there was nobody in the Big 12 North who could realistically step up and contend with the South. This made for some real snoozers as far as Championship games go, culminating in the South winning every championship from 2004 to 2010 (when the championship could no longer be played).

Herein lies the problem with the Pac 12 as it is currently divided. The only power in the South is USC. Yes, that is one hell of a power, but history has shown that no program can sustain this level of success indefinitely. Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Miami (currently!), etc., have all gone through significant periods of time in which they produced mediocre teams. More proof? It happened to USC! From 1996-2001 USC won more than 6 games just one time.

When USC goes into a lull, who will step up? Arizona State? Utah? UCLA? Colorado? Sounds a lot like Missouri, Kansas State, Kansas, and… Colorado… to me. The Pac 12 North, however, has one team that could cement itself as a USC-type elite program in Eugene, OR (Thanks, Nike!), two teams with coaches building teams to contend for many years (the Washingtons; Mike Leach and Steve Sarkisian), one team that has shown the ability to contend at the highest level recently (Stanford) and two teams who have shown the ability to contend historically (Oregon State and Cal). What happens when USC goes down? Well… last year’s title game, basically. Good luck, USC! The only hope for a competitive Pac 12 title game rests with you!

So in this intensely competitive Pac 12 North, who will emerge victorious? How about the Ducks, with their menagerie of ever-changing uniforms? Can Stanford maintain their recent level of success? Can Mike Leach do for WSU what he did for Texas Tech (Hint: Yes)? Once again, with 100% accuracy, your 2012 Pac 12 North final standings:

Team                         Overall W-L            Conference W-L

Oregon                              11-1                           8-1

Washington State                 9-3                           6-3

Stanford                               7-5                           5-4

Washington                          7-5                            5-4

California                              5-7                            3-6

Oregon State                         4-8                            3-6

Oregon: The lone loss is to USC, and none of this should be surprising. Oregon should be elite. They have the headquarters to the company that every high schooler wants an endorsement deal with right in town. They finally nabbed a coach that can sell that well enough, combined with the only offense with a name more fantastic than “Air Raid” (Blur). Oregon is returning their QB, has plenty of undersized and speedy RBs, has an extremely talented defense… should I continue? The only issue this season should be playing at USC. Beyond that, if you haven’t seen the Ducks play yet, do so. After watching LSU play Alabama twice last season it should make you remember why football is awesome. Best Possible Inaccuracy: Nothing. This is pretty much guaranteed.

Washington State: This will not be the last time I look at the standings I end up with and fear that my credibility will be justifiably impugned. But wait! Let me list some reasons that 9-3 is completely possible for Air Cougar: 1) Mike Leach never won fewer than 7 games at Texas Tech. Texas Tech is TEXAS TECH. Lubbock is a worse place to win football games, and the Big 12 a harder conference to win football games in, than what WSU is working with. 2) The Pac-12 has two teams that will only lose to each-other followed by a lot of teams with similar chances to win. WSU misses USC. 3) I have their 3 losses coming at home against Oregon and @ Stanford and Utah. Their stiffest test after that is the Apple Cup against Washington at home. 4) Washington State has a very talented and young QB. 5) Mike Leach inherited a team which, blessedly, started almost all freshman and sophomores last season, meaning the hard part is over; the young talent Leach has to work with is also experienced. Best Possible Inaccuracy: They open the season at BYU on August 30. You can bet Code Red and I will be watching with bated breath as the season kicks off with the return of Mike Leach. This is also the most likely loss that I predicted as a win for WSU.

Stanford: Losing the greatest QB to walk through Stanford’s doors is a big blow. Losing two of the best offensive lienemen in the country may be even bigger. They have a solid team but the loss of Luck and his linemen, plus a tough schedule, should bring Stanford back to earth a bit this season. I have them losing at Washington, California, Notre Dame, and Oregon, and losing at home to USC. Stanford’s defense is excellent, but I just don’t yet have the faith that Stanford will be able to maintain the level of success they gained with Harbaugh. Best Possible Inaccuracy: Honestly, it’s probably more likely Stanford gets wins at Cal and Washington, giving them a 9-3 season. This is my first total gut-feeling pick on the season, which I’m sure Red will be more than happy to stab with a stat-knife.

Washington: For Sark, it’s time to capitalize on the consistency he has produced and move upward in the standings. This season improvement would be going 7-5. Washington isn’t going to beat USC, Oregon, or LSU, but only losing 2 of their other 9 games is more than likely. They return a QB with a lot of upside, most of their defense, and get the opportunity to play several new starters who were highly recruited. Next season the Huskies will have a shot to grab 9 or 10 wins, but this year it would be better to expect the standard 7. Best Possible Inaccuracy: I have them losing to USC, Oregon, LSU, Washington State, and at home to Utah. They could lose to Stanford to drop to 6-6 or beat Utah at home and end up 8-4.

California: Same old story for Cal; great recruits, massive potential, disappointing result. While Tedford normally nabs winning seasons, this is a rebuilding year for Cal. They have a lot of new guys at skill positions coming in. They have four guaranteed road losses at Ohio State, USC, WSU, and Utah, then have to play Washington, Stanford, and Oregon at home. It’s hard to imagine them winning one of those. Best Possible Inaccuracy: They could beat Washington at home, maybe?

Oregon State: The Pac 12 should probably be commended for taking on so many good non-conference games. Funny that the teams taking on the good non-conference games have no chance of winning them, though. Oregon State plays at home against Wisconsin and at BYU, two games they will not win. After that they play five conference home games, 3 of which are against Oregon, Utah, and Mike Leach. 6-6 this year should be considered an impressive achievement. Best Possible Inaccuracy: Maybe Oregon State can win every winnable game they have: at home against Nicholls State, at UCLA, at Arizona, at home vs. ASU, at home vs. Cal. That is five games.


The exact standings will be as follows:

Oregon: 11-1, 8-1 Conference. Yes, Oregon lost the QB and RB who carried them the last several years. That's never mattered. Remember, the Ducks improved the year AFTER they lost both Dennis Dixon and Jeremiah Masoli. They'll roll the north, with their only stumble coming on the road against the Trojans.

Stanford: 7-5, 4-5 Conference. They'll tread water okay in their first year without Luck Or Harbaugh.

Washington: 7-5, 4-5 Conference. Sarkisian's doing a bang up job, loading up on talent and building a real program at Washington. That breakout season isn't too far away, but it won't be this year.

California: 6-6, 4-5 Conference. Tedford can't seem to get over the hump, but there's still enough talent here to break even.

Washington State: 6-6, 4-5 Conference. I hate to be seen as less of a Mike Leach fan than Iggins! I'm certainly not, and 6-6 and a bowl would be a huge step in the right way for Washington State. However, I have to counter Iggins! Reasons why AIR COUGAR will fly to 9 wins this season. 1) The idea that Texas Tech is a harder place to win than Pullman, Washington. Texas Tech had been to 5 bowls in 7 years before Mike Leach took over and had only had one losing season in that time. The cupboard was far, far from bare and was much farther along than Washington State is. 2) It's true that there's a lot of waste in the middle of the Pac 12, but that doesn't mean that Washington, who has to play against BYU on the road and travels to Stanford and Utah, is a shoe in to rise to the top of that pack. 3) We already disagree on the quality of UCLA and I think Oregon State on the road is a tougher out than you think. 4) Washington State does have a talented young QB, but he was not the starter for most of last year, and their (ed. Note GAH it’s THERE, damnit!) will be some growing pains in the first year of Leach' system. I also have to add that Leach, the innovator of the Air Raid offense, understands that the landscape of college football is very different than it was when he took over in Lubbock in 2000. The spread is no longer novel. In the Pac 12 alone Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah all use it. High schools use it. When Leach first arrived as OC at Kentucky in the 1990s and at Oklahoma in 1999, and when he took over in Lubbock in 2000, it was still a way to take inferior talent and take advantage of mismatches. Now the country is filled with defenses who have been recruited to play against the spread. Teams that win now with spread offenses do so because it is still a way to maximize the talent you have, but Washington State isn't quite there yet. Also, I hate to say it, but if Iggins argument is that Leach never won less than 7 games at Texas Tech, is it worth pointing out that he didn't win 9 until his 3rd season, and not again until his 6th? Iggins! has forced me to argue against Mike Leach, and for this he will burn in eternal hellfire.

Oregon State 3-9, 2-7 Conference. I have a hard time putting Oregon State down for another 3-9 season. They'll inevitably pull some upsets and be more respectable, but their schedule is fucking brutal. Prove me wrong, Oregon State. I know you will.

Pac 12 Championship Game:

Iggins!: I have Oregon over USC, 38-34. It’s too hard for an elite team to beat another elite team twice in one season, not to mention Chip losing to USC three times in a row just doesn’t seem likely. What a clusterfuck this will create for the BCS.

Code Red: USC over Oregon. (That would be much less of a clusterfuck).

TO SUMMARIZE: Making Red put down Mike Leach is hysterical, and other than that we agree on pretty much everything but the title game rematch. The SEC is up next! Just to show a little leg, there may be a complete disagreement on how the Harvard of the south will do.

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