Monday, 30 September 2013

The Roundup Week 5: Washington shows some flaws, Stanford and Oregon are a cut above, and Lane Kiffin is a dead man no longer walking

The first full weekend of conference play was supposed to deliver a great slate of games that made an awful week four a distant memory. Through horribly in-climate weather, unfortunate injuries to star players, and top teams asserting their will, week five ended up being a dud in the Pac-12. Despite a handful of forgettable games, we learned a lot about the Pac-12 on Saturday as the top tier of the conference put significant distance between them and the rest of the pack.

Oregon State 44, Colorado 17

For the past four weeks I have been boldly proclaiming that there are no bad teams in the Pac-12. I was wrong. Colorado is unquestionably better now than it was last year and the program is heading in the right direction but the Buffs are long way off from being a competitive Pac-12 team. The Beavers didn't really play all that well as QB Sean Mannion threw 25 incompletions, the Beavers committed a pair of turnovers, and the OSU defense allowed almost five yards per play. The Beavers' sloppy play was bailed out by a sloppier performance from the Buffs who failed to take care of the ball and coughed up four turnovers in the heavy rain that fell all day in Corvallis. The three week lay off seemed to play against Colorado as well as QB Connor Wood seemed a step slow reading defenses and frequently threw to a vacated part of the field likely due to miscommunications with his receivers.

For Oregon State, its defense looked better but still isn't good enough to get through conference play. OSU tackled a lot better and came up with key stops in the right situations forcing Colorado to go 2/15 on 3rd down conversions. Then again, a rusty and largely untalented team tends to make a poor defense look really good. Mannion didn't have his best game from an efficiency standpoint. He finished 27/52 and struggled a lot early completing two out of his first seven throws including an egregious interception into heavy coverage that set up a field goal and kept Colorado in the game. Mannion certainly came around by the end of the game though as he eventually threw for 414 yards and a career high six touchdowns. Brandin Cooks also continued his run of ridiculous numbers and added to his Biletnikoff Award candidacy with nine catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns. On the downside, the Beavers still struggled to run the ball as the Beavers finished with 3.5 yards per carry as a team and starting tailback Terron Ward ran for just 55 yards on 19 carries.

For Colorado, they obviously don't have the talent to hang with most of the Pac-12 but there were a few positives to take away from this game. True freshman Michael Adkins made his career debut and emerged as a viable feature tailback with 98 yards on 14 carries. The Buffs looked stout up front led once again by true freshman linebacker Addison Gilliam who was all over the field especially early in the game. Also, once the rain lightened up in the 4th quarter and the offense shook off some of the rust the Buffs put together a few solid drives.

Washington 31, Arizona 13

No one could draw any conclusions about Arizona heading into Saturday's game but I presented an idea of who they were. I figured the Wildcats were good at running the ball, stopping the run, and creating turnovers while struggling to throw the ball and rush the passer. Those traits all came to fruition in a nondescript game that was very telling about the Wildcats and not at all about the Huskies. Arizona fans feared QB B.J. Denker would never develop an ability to throw effectively against good defenses and their worst fears were confirmed by the Huskies. Denker looked utterly hopeless throwing from the pocket especially when attempting to go beyond 10 yards down field. Denker finished 14/35 for a mere 119 yards and a pair of interceptions. Arizona finished with only two pass plays longer than 10 yards and as a result was unable to ever really challenge in this game.

The Huskies never honored Arizona's passing game from the start and were able to load the box against the Wildcats ground game. That game plan worked especially well early as Washington was able to overload the edges and prevented Ka'Deem Carey from reaching the corner and breaking any big runs. However, once Arizona adjusted and tried to move the ball methodically up the middle, Arizona was able to move the ball fairly effectively but could not finish drives. Arizona's defense on the other hand played about as well as they possibly could have. Arizona came in with one of the nation's best run defenses and although they allowed Bishop Sankey to run for 161 yards, Sankey needed 40 carries to get there. By the way, 40 carries is way too much for any player especially one who is that important. There is no reason to give a guy that many touches and risk burning him out before the midway point of the season especially when you have a very good backup tailback in Jesse Callier.

Because Arizona's offense was struggling so much, the Wildcats frequently had to punt from deep in their own territory and hand Washington great field position. Washington had numerous opportunities to go for a kill shot and put this game out of reach early but Arizona stood tall all night and gave the Wildcats at least a faint hope all the way into the 4th quarter.

Washington looked just fine on both sides of the ball. The Huskies got away from their usual balance on offense mostly because the rain and wind made it at times almost impossible to throw the ball effectively. Defensively, Washington was fine although it's hard to say much about them because they were so unchallenged but Arizona's passing attack. My concern for Washington is that we still don't know too much definitively about their secondary and they struggled to stop the run up the middle which is a major problem heading into next week's game against Stanford. never the less, Washington did exactly what they had to do and found a ho hum victory while Arizona left plenty of reason for both hope and pessimism.

Stanford 55, Washington State 17

Here's what you need to know about this game: Stanford mashed the stuffing out of Washington State up front on both lines, Kevin Hogan threw some beautiful passes for Stanford in a way that I had rarely seen from him before, Stanford somehow became even deeper at running back with the emergence of Barry Sanders Jr., and a quarterback controversy might be brewing in Pullman. The much maligned Connor Halliday had a generally poor night going 24/36 for 184 yards and an interception before leaving with an injury in the 3rd quarter. Austin Apodaca replaced him but he was quickly injured at the end of his first series. According to Mike Leach, Halliday would have gone back in the game if Apodaca wasn't able to go but Apodaca was fine and played the rest of the game and threw 15 completions on 29 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. I will say this, Apodaca's raw passing ability looked more impressive than Halliday's but he has some mechanical issues of his own and did not seem to have a great grasp of Leach's offense. That's all you really need to know about a game that was uncompetitive from the start. Now let's talk about the only truly noteworthy thing that happened during this game, popcorn guy.

Just pouring popcorn all over his face and down his body, all alone in a 70,000+ seat stadium in a rainstorm. This man is the true embodiment of the American dream and we should all aspire to live as carefree as him.

Oregon 55, California 16

Oregon is really good, Cal is not. Oregon was totally dominant in the rain as Cal lost four fumbles in its first 15 offensive plays and quickly gave up an insurmountable lead. Oregon's Bralon Addison scored a pair of amazing punt return touchdowns and Marcus Mariota was okay although the slick football wreaked havoc on his accuracy as he threw several wobbly passes and missed open receivers in the 1st half. De'Anthony Thomas hurt his right ankle on the opening kickoff of the game and was eventually seen walking with crutches on the sideline in the second half. Thankfully, Thomas was walking fine in the locker room after the game and was up beat. Oregon doesn't give out injury information and you can never assume anything about injuries but it seems like Thomas will be okay.

The worst part of the rain storm that hit the Paciific Northwest on the weekend reached Eugene right at kickoff of this game and as a result, Cal and Oregon played through driving sheets of rain, standing puddles of water all over the field, and gusts of wind reaching 30 mph. Offense became just about impossible as Oregon tallied just 381 yards of total offense, anemic by their standards. Cal was far worse as the Bears averaged just four yards per pass attempt and 2.9 yards per rush with five turnovers (all occurring in the 1st quarter). True freshman QB Jared Goff who came in leading the nation in total offense per game was benched in this game. That in itself is not all that noteworthy, what is glaring is how quickly he got the hook. Goff was removed late in the 1st quarter after going 3/6 for 11 yards and losing two fumbles. In both cases, Goff cocked his arm to throw and simply dropped the ball. he was replaced by redshirt freshman and former five star recruit Zach Kline who looked very unimpressive with a shot put style throwing motion and a complete inability to throw more than 15 yards down field. Head coach Sonny Dykes confirmed after the game that Goff was not pulled because of an injury and earlier today in practice Goff and Kline split first team reps on a 50/50 basis.

Oregon was fine and I'm not going to bother saying they need to be more efficient and Mariota needs to be more accurate because their problems were strictly because of the weather conditions. Cal on the other hand found out exactly how much distance lies between them and the class of the conference and it is a big chasm. Cal's QB situation has suddenly devolved into a mess overnight and their defense is every bit as miserable as it was before their bye week. Cal has given up more yards and more points through four games than ever before in program history, and the Bears have had some dark days in the past. Cal has easily the worst defense in the conference and if their offense isn't what we thought it was then the Bears could be in for a miserable season.

Arizona State 62, USC 41

Like all things USC, this section will inevitably turn into a referendum on Lane Kiffin, USC's unprofessional administrative practices, and the future of USC football. The focus of this game is squarely on USC because of what happened in the dead of the morning following the Trojans' defeat but that is unfairly burying a great performance by the Sun Devils. Arizona State had it's best day offensively since 2000 with 612 yards and averaged 10 yards per pass attempt and 7.5 yards per rush. Marion Grice scored two more touchdowns, Taylor Kelly got back on track, and Jaelen Strong confirmed his superstar status. ASU was not particularly great on defense but were opportunistic as they forced four turnovers. Overall it was a solid team win for ASU as they dismantled what we thought was a premier defense and established that while they don't belong with premier teams like Stanford, they are clearly above the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. Now about the team that lost and that coach they left in a parking lot.

Lane Kiffin took heat for numerous things and was fired with cause for multiple reasons but the biggest reason he fell out of favor was the drastic failure of his offense and his inability to develop a quarterback. It's ironic then that Kiffin was fired six hours after USC's most productive game of the season complete with a career day from QB Cody Kessler. USC played very well on offense with the aforementioned Kessler completing his first eight passes and finishing 20/29 for 295 yards and two touchdowns. Kessler did throw two interceptions but neither were his fault as his receiver appeared to run the wrong route on the fist one and the second one was off a deflection. the Trojans run game was superior once again as Tre Madden ran for 128 yards and a score while Justin Davis thankfully reappeared in the Trojans' game plan with 122 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries. The real problem was that USC's once dominant defense was exposed as a fraud. I openly worried that although the Trojans looked great to start the year, their lack of depth would cause them to fall apart against great up tempo offenses. My fears were realized and then some as the Sun Devils torched the Trojans early and often. Prior to last season, USC had not given up 60+ points in any game during its entire history dating all the way back to 1888. The Trojans have now allowed 62 points twice in the last 10 games.

As you know by now, the ignominious Lane Kiffin era has been mercifully terminated at USC. I say "terminated" because that's the word USC used in a very cold press release announcing the move. At the moment, I'm having a hard time deciding who looks worse between Kiffin and USC. To recap this entire gong show step by step:

1. USC suffers a turnover ridden and defenseless third quarter as Arizona State goes on a 28-0 run and turns a one point deficit into a 27 point blowout. During the run, Kiffin makes one of the most incredulous coaching decisions known to man as he calls a halfback pass from a wildcat formation on 4th and two from his own 41 yard line.

2. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden who normally watches the entire game from the sideline, disappears into the bowels of Sun Devil Stadium for about 40 minutes and reemerges with USC President Max Nikias. Haden and Nikias talk at great length while appearing visibly perturbed and by Haden's own admission, decided right then and there to fire Kiffin during the game.

3. At 3:48 AM, Haden tells Kiffin that he is fired. Instead of letting everyone sleep on it and informing him in a private meeting the next morning like every other athletic director would, Haden fires Kiffin in perhaps the most embarrassing way possible. He allowed Kiffin to get on the team bus but then pulled him off and fired him in an empty parking lot at Los Angeles International Airport in plain view of all the USC players and then instructed the bus to take off and return to campus without him.

Haden's decision to depose his head coach was perfectly defensible, Kiffin was a failure as a coach who sunk the USC program to depths it should never endure. His players had clearly tuned him out based on their body language and the lack of effort they gave for him starting in last year's dreadful Sun Bowl loss and continuing into this season. What is indefensible about Haden's decision is how he did it. Haden said multiple times on Sunday that he had been considering firing Kiffin since week one of this season. If he was ready to get rid of him so early, why did he put out a YouTube video over the summer that all but guaranteed Kiffin would be his coach in 2014? To recap, Haden publicly declared that Kiffin was not on the hot seat and he would remain safe for the entire 2013 season on July 25. On August 30, Haden considers firing Kiffin following USC's season opener just 36 days after claiming he would not consider firing him. Finally, on September 29 Haden fires Kiffin with a winning record on the year, 66 days after shouting for all the world to hear that Kiffin was not even on the hot seat.

Kiffin comes out of this looking terribly bad as well. the fact that Haden felt compelled to fire him in a parking lot at four in the morning tells me that things had become so toxic around Kiffin at USC that Haden couldn't stand to have him around the team one second longer. He was called "the Miley Cyrus of college football" on Saturday morning, he plummeted USC's offense and QB play to levels historically unseen, fans failed to show up to the coliseum in ways they never had before because of him, and they protested his continued employment through less than legal means.

In the end, Haden looks like a cold, heartless, and ruthless liar while Kiffin looks like an inept coach who never deserved to be hired for a high profile head coaching job, never mind three. Out of all this, USC looks like it is in complete chaos. They played only 50 scholarship players against Arizona State and watched star WR Marqise Lee go down with an ugly knee injury and are now left with two scholarship wide receivers on their entire roster. They have promoted defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to be interim head coach. This is because Orgeron is the only person on staff with head coaching experience but it is hardly a line he should promote on his resume. Orgeron went 10-25 in three seasons as head coach at Ole Miss including an 0-8 SEC record in 2007, that was Ole Miss' first win-less conference record in 25 years. In three years, Oregeron won only two games against a team that finished with a winning record.

USC is now a bad team, one that is injury riddled, coach-less, and without a quality offense or defense. That matters little in the big picture as Haden, Nikias, and USC's administration have at least two months to slowly and carefully find the right coach to rebuild the smoldering crater that Kiffin left behind. For now may we stand, remove our hats, and observe a moment of silence in memory of Kiffin Face. It will be missed, may it rest in peace.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

USC fires Lanke Kiffin after embarrassing loss

Matt Kartozian/USA Today Sports
USC has fired embattled head coach Lane Kiffin following last night's 62-41 loss to Arizona State. Kiffin was practically fired during the game as USC President Max Nikias and Athletic Director Pat Haden met on the USC sideline during the second half of last night's game and decided to depose Kiffin during Arizona State's 28-0 second half run. Yes, we were that close to seeing a coach handed a pink slip and being escorted from the sideline during a game. USC officials practically went out of their way to embarrass Kiffin by pulling him off the team bus at LAX and firing him in sight of the players. The move is certainly not a surprise, at least if you listened to me and ignored that ridiculous video Haden put out over the summer defending Kiffin. The timing of this move makes perfect sense also as USC heads into a bye week and will now have 12 days to move on from Kiffin and install an interim coach (sounds like it will be defensive line coach Ed Orgeron but I haven't seen anything official yet).

There are a few things to take away from this. First is that Kiffin got what he deserved. He landed the best job in America, inherited a top 10 caliber team and drove it straight into the ground. He was surly with the media, he lied to people's faces, he attempted to have multiple USC beat writers barred from university grounds after they criticized him, he tried to cheat to beat Oregon last year, and he utterly failed to recruit and develop a quarterback who could replace Matt Barkley. The second is that you never want to replace a legend. Kiffin was behind the eight ball from the beginning by trying to replace Pete Carroll. Kiffin was hardly USC's first choice back in 2010 and a lot of people avoided the USC job because they didn't want to come in after Carroll. It's easy to be the guy who replaced the failure who followed the legend so USC should be able to land it's top target this time around.

Thirdly, you can't take a word Pat Haden says seriously. I have never seen an AD give such an impassioned and iron clad defense of a coach and then fire him so quickly. Other coaches know about that video and will be turned off by how badly Haden threw Kiffin under the bus after Haden professed Kiffin to be his best friend. Haden's little side show will prevent a few top candidates from considering the job. Finally, the USC players will have a weight lifted of them. It was painfully obvious in last year's Sun Bowl that the Trojans had quit on Kiffin and their body language and the way they have reacted to him on the sideline this year was almost depressing to watch. Every day since last November the players have had to answer questions about Kiffin and wonder if this is the day he was fired. Now that Kiffin is out, they can just play and relax a little bit.

I was shocked Kiffin survived last season when he took a preseason number one team and ended up 7-6. Kiffin went into this season with a hotter seat than I can ever remember seeing and now he is out of work with a winning record on the year. When Kiffin called for a halfback pass out of a wildcat formation on 4th and 2 from his own 41 in the 3rd quarter, I thought it was arguably the worst play call I had ever seen. Now that I know Kiffin had already been fired when it happened, it may have been Kiffin crying out for mercy and a chance to get off that sideline and away from USC as quickly as possible.

Don't feel too bad for Kiffin, he is a jerk who is sleeping in the grave he dug but more importantly he will be paid a nice hefty buyout. Kiffin has also proven himself as a recruiter (at least outside the QB position) and will have no problem landing a cushy offensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator gig. I'll have a lot more on this later today and in the week to come but for now, USC fans can celebrate because the wicked witch is dead. The rest of the Pac-12 will sit in melancholy knowing that USC might have a chance to rise back to prominence.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Saturday Slate Week 5: Arizona finally plays someone, USC and ASU meet at a crossroads, and Oregon and Cal want to break the scoreboard

The insufferable week four schedule is finally buried behind us and with that comes a loaded week five setup. There are plenty of intriguing games taking place all over the nation but especially out on the west coast. The Pac-12 season gets started in earnest as for the first time since last November, every game involving a Pac-12 team today will be a conference game. I've been saying for awhile that although there are clearly higher and lower tiers in the Pac-12, there are no truly terrible teams in the conference. Thanks to that great depth it's almost impossible to have a boring match up in the Pac-12 and true to form, week five delivers five very interesting games. We have a big college football feast ahead of us, so lets dig in.

All times are Pacific

Bye Weeks: UCLA and Utah

Two teams are sitting out the fun and festivities of the first full week of Pac-12 play and not coincidentally they will play each other next week. Both the Bruins and the Utes have the week off as they prepare to kickoff the week six schedule next Thursday in Salt Lake City. The bye might be coming at a perfect time for Utah as the Utes are no doubt bruised and battered following a very physical game against Brigham Young last week. Meanwhile, UCLA has caught a terrible stroke of bad luck on its schedule as it get its second of two bye weeks just five weeks into the season. The first bye was set up nicely as the Bruins had two weeks to prepare to face Nebraska on the road with a 9:00 AM start time. This one is less fortuitous as UCLA is coming off a breezy win over new Mexico State and was well rested anyway.

Colorado at Oregon State (-11.5), 12:00 PM on Pac-12 Network

Most people will probably be spending the noon time slot watching LSU-Georgia and/or Oklahoma-Notre Dame and since you are probably like most people, you likely won't see too much of this game. I won't blame you for watching those two games with huge national title implications but during commercials, feel free to flip over to the Pac-12 Network and get drunk on receiving yards.

The marque for this game is not hard to create as the nation's top two receivers in terms of receptions, yards, and touchdowns per game go head to head with Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and Colorado's Paul Richardson. Making matters even more explosive for those star receivers are the presense of two very good quarterbacks and two less than stellar defenses. Oregon State's Sean Mannion is the national leader in just about every relevant passing category while Colorado's Connor Wood is quietly sixth in the nation in total offense per game.

As for the defenses, the reason why I think both will get shredded is different for each team. The Beavers have been atrocious on defense this season. They were ripped up and down the field by Eastern Washington and Utah surrendering 1174 yards and 97 points in those two games. Hawaii and San Diego State will likely be among the 10 worst offenses in college football at the end of the year but the Beavers struggled against those two teams as well. Parts of the box scores from those two games pass the smell test but the eye test sure didn't as the Beavers couldn't tackle to save their lives. Colorado on the other hand has actually put up solid numbers defensively so far this year. The Buffs are allowing 317.5 yards per game which puts them 29th in the nation, ahead of Oregon, Stanford, and UCLA.

So why shouldn't you be impressed by Colorado's defense? Well it's based on a ridiculously small sample size of only two games and those performances were against middling Colorado State and FCS program Central Arkansas. Secondly, although this team looks a heck of lot better (dare I say competent) this is still basically the same cast of characters who ranked 121st in the nation in total defense last year. The players on the Buffs' defense may be better coached and more fundamentally sound but after just one recruiting class there is no way they have the talent or depth to slow down an elite offense.

Colorado could be rusty seeing the field for the first time in three weeks but that might work both for and against them. Colorado's offense will probably suffer early because their timing and rhythm will probably be off. However, three weeks to rest and game plan should help the defense get some early stops. I expect to see a very fun shootout and one the Beavers should win and more accurately need to win. OSU is the better team and they should come out on top but 11.5 points is too much for a bad defense against an explosive passing attack. I am going to take the points but pick the Beavers to win 45-38.

Arizona at #16 Washington (-9.5), 4:00 PM on Fox

If Colorado-Oregon State is all about two superstar receivers, then this game is built around arguably the two best tailbacks in college football. Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey was the leading rusher in the nation last year at 148.4 yards per game and has actually increased that number to 149.5 this year. Washington's Bishop Sankey meanwhile was 19th in the nation in rushing yards last year but finds himself second in the nation at 148.7 this year. Most eyes will be fixed on the tailbacks but unfortunately for Arizona, there's a lot more to this game than talent in the backfield.

Washington seems to have finally turned the corner from perennial seven win program to potential top 10 team as the Huskies have dominated in all three of their games this year including big wins over Boise State and Illinois. The Huskies are moving the ball with ease both by land and by air and doing it at an exceptionally fast tempo while their defense has put the clamps on a pair of highly productive offenses. Arizona has also looked very good but it's almost impossible to draw any conclusions about the Wildcats. Arizona has faced one of the easiest schedules in the country so far and has looked solid and put up good numbers. Through four weeks of college football, Arizona matches the statistical profile of a top 10 team by almost any computer metric. The Wildcats might be that good but, it's more likely that they aren't.

Arizona's defensive numbers have gotten a lot better and unlike Colorado, I think Arizona's defense is legitimately decent now. Arizona surrendered more yards than all but three teams in college football last year and although like Colorado, Arizona is still using largely the same players who struggled last year I think there is greater reason for optimism. For one, Arizona is unquestionably deeper and more talented than Colorado especially in the secondary. More importantly, last year's struggles were primarily due to transitioning from Mike Stoops' 4-3 system to Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 alignment. The Wildcats' are still woefully undersized and have struggled to rush the passer even against bad offensive lines. However, most of Arizona's breakdowns defensively came from poor alignments, communication breakdowns, and abysmal tackling. The jury is still out on the tackling aspect but the Wildcats' mental problems have all but disappeared as you would expect in year two under Casteel.

Can Arizona's improved defense handle Washington? It would be surprising if they did. The only way to knock Washington QB Keith Price off his game is to pressure him and I don't see how Arizona can do that effectively. As mentioned before, the Wildcats' front struggles to penetrate and that likely won't improve on the road where they won't have their crowd discombobulating the offensive line's communication. I like the Wildcats' overall speed and play making ability on defense but I think Washington will be able to get physical with them on the ground and Price will be able to pick the Cats apart after standing clean in the pocket all night.

Arizona's problems extend to the offense where they will labor to get big plays. Carey will get his but he won't run for eight yards a pop either. That leaves B.J. Denker to throw the ball and and convert on third down which he hasn't been able to do this year. Denker has a pop gun arm and the Wildcats' wide receivers are middling at best. Because of that, Washington will be able to load up the box on Carey and force Denker to beat them, something he will struggle to do.

Rich Rodriguez is an offensive genius and I bet he can script the first part of the game well enough to score some points early despite the faulty parts in his offense. By the end of the night I think Justin Wilcox's defense will be able to adjust and dictate the game while Washington's offense remains balanced and explosive. I will pick Washington to win and cover 42-28.

#5 Stanford (-9.5) at Washington State (in Seattle), 7:00 PM on ESPN

Raise your hand if you thought this game would be for first place in the Pac-12 North back in the summer. If you put your hand up, you're a liar. Stanford has been as advertised this year bashing teams with its power run game and physical defense and riding home to three easy wins. Washington State's season is a little harder to explain. Washington State was supposed to turn into an offensive power under noted Air Raid guru Mike Leach but so far this year the Cougars have developed one of the nation's best defenses. The Cougars are allowing only 12 points per game and rank second in the nation in pass defense and have not allowed a passing touchdown. The Cougars have used lights out defense and just enough offense to jump out to a 3-1 record and would be undefeated if not for a couple bad decisions by QB Connor Halliday in the opener against Auburn.

The Cougars recovered from that disheartening loss to Auburn by winning three in a row for the first time since 2006. Starting 3-1 isn't quite as rare seeing as Wazzou was 3-1 in 2011 but proceeded to lose seven of its next eight games to finish 4-8. But, don't use that 2011 season as a barometer for the Cougars' destiny in 2013. A lot of people keep expecting the Cougars to regress and turn back into a struggling defense but I actually think the Cougars' performance is sustainable over the course of the season. Their interception rate will probably fall off at some point but the Cougars have built a very stout and physical defensive line led by emerging stars like like Ioane Guata, Kalafitoni Pole, and Xavier Cooper. I have questions about Wazzou's linebackers, particularly in the middle, but that is mitigated by having physical and aggressive defensive backs like Deone Bucannon and Damante Horton in the back end.

There is a strong case to make for Washington State having a shot in this game. Stanford is in a weird place in its schedule having won a big game over Arizona State last week but having a huge game versus Washington next Saturday. The combination of a letdown from the ASU game and a look ahead to UW could lead to a lack of focus and mistakes for the Cardinal. Also, Stanford is playing without All-American left guard David Yankey who has temporarily left the team due to a family matter. Yankey's absence is particularly bad news against the Cougars whose best asset is their interior defensive line led by Guata and Pole. Stanford could struggle to run the ball and that could lead to Kevin Hogan having problems. Hogan is at his best on play action but he has been erratic at times as a drop back passer. If Stanford gets stuck in 3rd and long all night, Hogan could get caught throwing some wayward passes to Wazzou's ball hawks.

I can see this game unfolding many different ways but they all result in Stanford winning and that is because of the match up between Stanford's defense and Wazzou's offense. Stanford should be able to overwhelm Wazzou's offensive line and that is going to put Connor Halliday in positions to make some disastrous mistakes. Halliday has already thrown 11 interceptions in four games and almost all of them have been his fault. His long throwing motion and poor footwork tends to telegraph passes and cause balls to sail on him leading to inaccurate throws and easy interceptions. Halliday has had problems finding his mark with a good pocket around him, what's going to happen when he's throwing with traffic in his face? If I were a betting man I would take the under in this game but I think Stanford can hold Wazzou under more than Wazzou can hold down Stanford. Stanford won't look pretty and they'll be happy when the game is over but I expect them to ultimately ride points off turnovers to a 27-17 victory that barely covers the spread.

USC at Arizona State (-4), 7:30 PM on ESPN2

It's hard to over sell just how important this game is for the Trojans and Sun Devils. Both teams still have aspirations of winning the Pac-12 South but are currently 0-1 in conference and had major flaws exposed in their respective Pac-12 openers. USC was wholly inept at quarterback against Washington State while Arizona State was pushed around on both lines by Stanford. So which team's warts will show up tonight? Truthfully this game might come down to which offensive line can block.

USC wants this game to be ugly and low scoring. The Trojans have one of the best defenses in the nation led by arguably the most talented defensive line in college football that loves to wreak havoc in the backfield. The Trojans dominance up front has led to 38 tackles for loss (most in college football entering the week) and 16 sacks (second nationally) in only four games. Arizona State wants a high scoring game where they can run upwards of 90 plays and put together long, sustained drives and balanced play calling. But, consistently productive offense might be an arduous task based on what we saw from ASU last week. Facing a similarly physical and athletic 3-4 defense, the Sun Devils wilted up front against Stanford and could not run the ball or give Taylor Kelly time and space to throw.

It might behoove ASU to search out a close, low scoring game where they can get a few opportunistic scores and wait for USC's offense to implode. The Trojans have been disastrous offensively this year particularly in the passing game where Cody Kessler has been erratic and the offensive line has been miserable. ASU didn't get much of a chance to show their athletic pass rushing ability against Wisconsin and Stanford's great lines but ASU monsters like Will Sutton and Carl Bradford should be awoken for this game. Both teams bare a lot of similarities with struggling offensive lines, athletic defensive fronts, talented wide receivers who struggle with drops, and skilled secondaries. The difference is at quarterback where ASU's Kelly is good enough to rise above pressure and make accurate throws if not good decisions. USC's Kessler has been terrible under pressure and has been wildly inaccurate even when he has had time to stand in the pocket.

In the end, USC might be bailed out by an ASU injury. The Sun Devils will be without their best run stopper in DT Jaxon Hood and that just might be enough for USC's leaky O-line to open up some holes and run the ball all night. I have no doubt USC will run the ball any time they can and they just might find yards but at some point this game is going to fall on Kessler and the Trojans' pass protection and that's where things could all fall apart for USC. As great as USC has been defensively, they still haven't faced a good up tempo offense that can test their depth. The Sun Devils will run a lot of plays and force USC to substitute and that will lead to a few good drives. Eventually, USC will have to throw the ball to keep up and I don't know how they are going to do it. I'm going to hedge a little bit and take USC to keep this one close but I like ASU to ride their defensive line and enough big plays on offense to a big win at home 24-21.

California at #2 Oregon (-37), 7:30 PM on Pac-12 Network

The Bears and Ducks return from their bye weeks and will try to run as many plays as possible under the lights (and the rain) at Autzen Stadium. Oregon will try to keep humming along on offense and they probably won't find much resistance from Cal's atrocious defense. The Bears have been utterly helpless on defense in three games this year and facing the number two scoring offense in college football is hardly a good remedy for fixing your problems. I don't need to tell you much about the match up of Oregon's offense versus Cal's defense. Oregon will move the ball with the run game and pass game and generate big plays with multiple elite athletes. Good defenses can't stop the Ducks, bad defenses like Cal don't stand a chance.

The competition here is the point spread and it's a big one. Considering how good Cal has been on offense I did not think the Bears would ever be more than a 28 point underdog but the book makers in Vegas might be seeing some parallels between this game and last year's Arizona-Oregon game. In 2012, Arizona was in its first year under noted offensive mastermind Rich Rodriguez and was putting up huge numbers heading into a match up at Oregon that served as the Pac-12 opener for both teams. Most people expected a high scoring game but the Ducks smothered Arizona's spread attack and held the Wildcats to 0/6 on red zone opportunities and won 49-0.

Now Cal is coming in for the Ducks Pac-12 opener at Autzen Stadium with a new offensive genius in Sonny Dykes and a ridiculously productive offense. I think drawing connections from that Arizona game last year and this game is a little lazy. The obvious thought is that Oregon will be ready for Cal's tempo and spread formations and shut them down because they see the same stuff in practice every day. While that is true, the Bear Raid is an entirely different animal compared to Oregon's offense or Arizona's for that matter. Oregon will score at will and think Cal will find some answers but not enough to keep this one close. Ultimately though, 37 points is way too much against a premier offense like Cal even for a great team like Oregon. I'll take the Bears to cover but the Ducks to win 56-31.

Last Week Against the Spread: 6-1

Last Week Straight Up: 7-0

This Season Against the Spread: 24-12

This Season Straight up: 31-5

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Power Rankings Week 4: This looks a lot like last week for a reason

1. Oregon (Overall: 3-0, Conference: 0-0, Last Week: 1)
Oregon took the week off and watched as no one was able to put together a complete game dominance like what they have shown in all three of their games. Oregon remains on top for at least another week.

2. UCLA (3-0, 0-0, LW: 2)
UCLA was supposed to blowout New Mexico State and they did exactly that in a 46 point victory. I have been really impressed by UCLA's depth and I think that bodes well for when conference play starts. The Bruins haven't faced a good up tempo offense so far this year but I think UCLA is built to succeed once those match ups come around.

3. Washington (3-0, 0-0, LW: 3)
Speaking of teams that did what they were supposed to do, Washington crushed Idaho State and now heads into its conference opener healthy, rested, and riding a big wave of momentum. The Huskies need to cut down on bad penalties and suffocate a good team in the fourth quarter before I put them on Oregon and UCLA's level.

4. Stanford (3-0, 1-0, LW: 5)
For three quarters against Arizona State the Cardinal looked like the Pac-12's 1b to Oregon's 1a. However, Stanford's lack of a killer instinct on defense allowed the Sun Devils to get back in the game and made Stanford look vulnerable. Stanford's stout front seven and strong running game will give them a chance against anyone but I'm curious to see what happens when Stanford runs into a team that can hold down the Cardinal's rushing attack. Can Kevin Hogan win games from the pocket? We've gotten a mix of evidence supporting answers of both "yes" and "no" so far.

5. Arizona (3-0, 0-0, LW: 6)
The Wildcats had the week off and managed to move up one spot after Arizona State was pounded into submission by Stanford. The Wildcats haven't faced anyone of note and therefore have not done anything noteworthy this season but that all changes on Saturday in Seattle.

6. Arizona State (2-1, 0-1, LW: 4)
I imagine that playing Stanford is the least fun out of all potential opponents in the Pac-12. There's nothing quite like having bigger and stronger players with vicious attitudes run right at you and take joy in your suffering. Arizona State's lack of size up front was exposed against the Cardinal and ASU's once dominant run game looks like it is all finesse after the past two weeks. All that being said, even in a crushing loss ASU's overall team talent was evident and I was impressed by how they didn't give up and fought back in such a hopeless situation. Despite their performance against Stanford, I still think the Sun Devils have shown enough in their other games to suggest they still belong in the top half of the conference.

7. Oregon State (3-1, 1-0, LW: 7)
It's entirely possible that the Beavers will never improve their tackling and they will never rise out of the middle of the pack. We've been waiting for four weeks now for OSU to start tackling and play a complete game on defense but it just is not happening even against the worst teams on OSU's schedule. Offensively, the Beavers were struggling to run the ball when Storm Woods was healthy thanks to their banged up offensive line. The line still isn't healthy and Woods is out indefinitely after a scary head injury so there is little hope for the Beavers' rushing attack to get any better. Despite all their inequities, OSU still has arguably the best QB-WR combo in the nation with Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks and those two give them a legitimate chance against anyone.

8. Utah (3-1, 0-1, LW: 8)
I have a really good feeling about this Utah team and I was so tempted to move them further up the board. The Utes may have lost to Oregon State but the Utes have looked a lot better than OSU in their other three games. I do believe in honoring head to head wins so I'm keeping Utah behind the Beavers for the time being.

9. Colorado (2-0, 0-0, LW: 9)
I can't really say anything about the Buffs or move them up or down until I see them play and unfortunately I haven't seen them since September 7. Fortunately, the Buffs will finally get out of flood ravaged Boulder and return to football on Saturday in a sneaky good match up against Oregon State.

10. Washington State (3-1, 1-0, LW: 10)
The Cougars are halfway toward their first bowl appearance in 10 years and this weekend they have a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 North with a win at home (sort of). Of course the Cougars will need Oregon State to lose as well and more importantly will have to beat mighty Stanford in Seattle that could turn into a defacto neutral site game (their game in Seattle last year against Oregon sure did).

11. USC (3-1, 0-1, LW: 12)
Another week, another boring win for USC on the strength of great defense and mediocre offense. To tell you truth, USC has gotten markedly better since hitting rock bottom against Wazzou. The fact that the Trojans are still 11th is more of indication of overall strength in the conference rather than weakness from USC. The Trojans are certainly better than the 11th team in the Pac-12 but as long as the teams in front of them keep winning and looking good, I have to keep the Trojans down here.

12. California (1-2, 0-0, LW: 9)
Cal had a bye week and remains the only losing team in the Pac-12. Cal's placement at the bottom has a lot to do with a very difficult non-conference schedule but life only gets harder for the Bears as they face Oregon on the road on Saturday.

The Award Tracker:

Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year:
1. QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon (LW: 1)
A bye week doesn't change the fact that Mariota is the best player in the Pac-12 currently playing at the highest level.

2. QB Sean Mannion, Jr., Oregon State (LW: 2)
Mannion struggled to find a rhythm in the middle portion of the Beavers' game against San Diego State but he still managed to finish with a very impressive stat line of 38 completions on 55 attempts (both season highs) for 387 yards and three touchdowns (both season lows) with no interceptions. The fact that 367 yards and three touchdowns technically qualifies as an unproductive day goes to show just how good Mannion has been. Mannion now leads the nation in completions (133), passing yards (1604), touchdown passes (15), and touchdown to interception ratio (15:1).

3. WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State (LW: 3)
Cooks was held out of the end zone on Saturday but his seven receiving touchdowns from the previous three games still puts hum first in the nation. Cooks also maintained his national lead in receptions (43), and yards (639) with an impressive 14 catch (season high), 141 yard performance. Assuming the Beavers qualify for the postseason, Cooks is currently on pace for 140 receptions, 2077 yards, and 23 touchdowns. Based on the Beavers inability to do anything other than throw the ball, I wouldn't put it past him to hit those numbers at the end of the year


Honorable Mentions:
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado

RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington

QB Brett Hundley, So., UCLA

RB De'Anthony Thomas, Jr., Oregon

QB Keith Price, Sr., Washington

Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year:
1. LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA (LW: 2)
Barr was only able to play one half before being sat down along with the rest of UCLA's starters but while he was in the game he recorded 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. When Barr wasn't making a play in the backfield, he was attracting double teams and opening up opportunities for his teammates to make plays.

2. S Tra'Mayne Bondurant, Jr., Arizona (LW: 1)
Arizona wasn't present on last week's schedule but Bondurant's ball hawking ability hasn't gone anywhere.

3. DE Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah (LW: 3)
Reilly had a monsterous game against BYU blowing up the Cougars once vaunted rushign attack. Reilly recorded seven solo tackles including two for a loss giving him six TFLs for the year, tied for most in the Pac-12. He also had his second sack of the season. BYU's game plan is always to run horizontally and get to the corner but Reilly destroyed BYU's ability to do that.

Honorable Mentions:
S Dion Bailey, Jr., USC

LB Devon Kennard, Sr., USC

DT Leonard Williams, So., USC

S Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State

DE Josh Shirley, Jr., Washington

Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year:
1. QB Jared Goff, California (LW: 1)
His numbers are inflated by the Bear Raid system but even with Sonny Dykes coaching, not everyone has the ability to use that system to lead the nation in total offense per game. We will see how Goff does against an Oregon defense that prides itself on shutting down fast teams and forcing turnovers.
2. RB Justin Davis, USC (LW: NR)
Among the many criticisms Lane Kiffin is his inability to rotate tailbacks and give capable players a consistent workload. Despite a career day against Boston College two weeks ago, Kiffin again decided to leave Davis out of the game plan and gave him only six carries. Luckily for Davis, all the offensive freshman behind him weren't able to do much better last week.

3. RB Paul Perkins, UCLA (LW: NR)
I was hoping to see Perkins get steady work in the second half of UCLA's blowout win over New Mexico State. However, the fact that Perkins only got five carries in the first half before sitting in the second is probably a good sign for him moving forward.
Honorable Mentions:
RB Thomas Tyner, Oregon

RB Khalfani Muhammad, California

WR Kenny Lawlor, California
Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year:
1. LB Addison Gilliam, Colorado (LW: 1)
Gilliam was not afforded a stage to show off his abilities this weekend but the memories of what he has done are not old enough to make him fade from the top spot. This is exactly what I posted last week and I'm not changing it because Colorado once again did not play and despite two weeks away from the field, I still haven't seen a freshman defender as good as Gilliam.

2. LB Myles Jack, UCLA (LW: 2)
Jack had a near silent game on Saturday recording just one tackle but like Perkins above, the fact that Jim Mora values him enough to sit him for the entire second half to protect him is huge.

3. LB Scooby Wright, Arizona (LW: 3)
Wright was a tackling machine for the Wildcats for the first three games but we'll see how well he can track down Bishop Sankey and friends on Saturday.

Honorable Mentions:

DB Daquawn Brown, Washington State

DL Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

LB Hardy Nickerson, California

S Su'a Cravens, USC

Pac-12 Coach of the Year:
1. Jim Mora, UCLA (LW: 1)
As I'm sure you can tell from what is written above, I loved how Mora handled his roster this week. the temptation existed for him to play some of his star freshman the entire game and give them extra reps but the fact that he rested important young players like Jack and Perkins shows Mora's solid grasp on his team and its future.

2. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (LW: 2)
Three weeks in between games doesn't change how much better the Buffs look under MacIntyre versus how they played for the previous eight or so seasons.

3. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (LW: 3)
It's hard not to be impressed with how Helfrich has seamlessly implemented his own culture on top of what Chip Kelly had built before him. The fact that Helfrich has kept everything almost the same while adding a few important tweaks of his own is a big deal going forward.

Honorable Mentions:
Steve Sarkisian, Washington

Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Roundup Week 4: Arizona State isn't there yet, Stanford likes to play with its food, and Oregon State does not like tackling

With perhaps the most forgettable college football Saturday of all-time in the rear view mirror, we can all finally move on and gear up for a loaded week five schedule. So how bad was yesterday? Of the 59 games involving FBS teams yesterday, the Vegas favorite won 57 times. So there were no real marque games and that was made up for when there were no upsets. What a perfect waste pf time and yet we'll all be sitting around in April praying for a chance to watch a Saturday slate that bad. College football is a hell of a drug man. As much as I would love to let everyone get out of here and forget yesterday ever happened, I just can't do that. Here is the damage from yesterday:

#17 Washington 56, Idaho State 0

This one went about as you would expect as the Huskies cleaned the field with the Bengals. Washington QB Keith Price was not at his best as his accuracy was a little erratic from time to time but he still got in a fine half of work. Also, in one of the most hilarious mercy moves I have ever seen, Bishop Sankey was pulled from the game following the first quarter after he ran for 77 yards on just four carries. The defense was obviously dominant as well as they pitched a shutout and allowed only 164 total yards, 4/18 third down conversions, and forced three turnovers. Washington played how it was supposed to play on both sides of the ball and frankly they earned a chance to play a patsy after scheduling two quality opponents on their non-conference schedule.

The unfortunate thing for the Huskies moving forward is they are still making dumb mistakes. They lost another fumble and committed get this, 16 penalties for 130 yards. 10 of those penalties were on the offensive line and Steve Sarkisian tried to blame that on last second illegal shifts by the ISU defensive line. I need to say a couple things on that. First of all, the shifts were not illegal otherwise they would have been flagged and secondly, shifting right before the play shouldn't make up for the advantage that UW's offensive line had over ISU's defensive line. Sarkisian can complain all he wants but the rest of the conference is going to watch this film and copy what the Bengals were doing. Sarkisian better stop crying and adjust before false starts and holding penalties kill a potential game winning drive against a team with a pulse.

On a quick side note, shout out to UW running back Deontae Cooper who finally scored his first career touchdown after missing each of his first three seasons with three different ACL tears. As an Oregon fan I tell myself to hate UW and everything about it but Cooper's comeback story is impossible not to root for.

USC 17, Utah State 14

Okay, so if it was not apparent before, let it be said definitively now: USC's defense is really freaking good. Utah State's star QB Chuckie Keeton was averaging 370 yards of total offense per game going into yesterday but USC significantly damaged that mark by holding him to just 164. I mentioned in my preview of this game that the biggest key to Utah State's success was running the ball effectively and setting up short third downs. Against USC, the Aggies could not run at all on the Trojans (save for a pair of seemingly random big plays) and faced 3rd and 10 or longer 10 times resulting in a 5/17 3rd down conversion mark.

Now that we have a four game sample size of complete domination we can confirm beyond any shadow of a doubt that USC's defense is in fact the truth. The offense, well they're still pretty bad. I think most people kind of thought the Trojans weren't as good as they looked against Boston College but the hope was they would be at least better than they showed in the first two weeks. I will grant you that yesterday's performance was an improvement over the Washington State game but I saw nothing to change my stance that USC has the worst offense in the Pac-12. Cody Kessler was fine, he only completed half of his passes but he finally had the ball moving down field in big chucks as he averaged better than 10 yards per completion. The quarterback situation for the Trojans is still far from ideal but at least it isn't their biggest problem.

The biggest problem for USC's offense is and always has been their god awful offensive line. The Trojans looked confused by Utah State's blitz packages as linebackers and safeties were turned loose into the backfield throughout the afternoon. Even when the Aggies sat back in coverage, their defensive line still managed to win one on one battles and pressure Kessler into some bad throws. Even against the run, the Trojans offensive line looked over-matched as USC averaged exactly three yards per carry on 39 attempts. The only turnover of the game happened in the 2nd quarter when there was a miscommunication on the offensive line that left a blitzing linebacker unblocked on the left side which led to a strip sack on Kessler that he never saw coming. You could look at Kessler's 13/26 performance and say he still isn't playing well but I object to that thinking because nearly every one of those throws was straight into the teeth of oncoming pass rushers.

Kessler was also victimized by some dropped passes which is continually becoming a problem for USC. Marqise Lee is quickly falling from the best player in the Pac-12 to not even being an All-Pac-12 honorable mention as he dropped another deep pass and legitimately looks checked out. I don't know if it's missing Matt Barkley, struggling against bad teams, having his mind already set on the NFL, or something else but his mind is not right at the moment. Lee needs to get himself figured out and the offensive line needs to figure out how to at least give Kessler some time to scan the field and room to throw on his front foot. Things won't get much easier for the Trojans as Arizona State and their ferocious pass rushers welcome USC on the road next week.

#5 Stanford 42, #23 Arizona State 28

All things considered, Stanford may have played the best three quarters of the David Shaw era. The Cardinal shutout the Sun Devils in the first half and led 39-7 after three quarters. With three sessions in the books, Stanford had held ASU to 27 rushing yards on 20 attempts and blocked not one but two punts. Stanford's offense looked great as well when they finally showed off some new wrinkles we had been waiting for. Stanford still used their same old philosophy of substituting backup offensive linemen as tight ends and fullbacks and smashing ASU in the face with a power run game but Shaw also mixed in a few really interesting play calls. Stanford's first drive ended on a beautifully designed screen pass as Kevin Hogan faked a delayed draw play to the left and turned all the way around to throw to Ty Montgomery on the right. Stanford pulled a couple offensive linemen to be lead blockers and they paved the way for the opening touchdown of the game.

Stanford also ran a really cool looking reverse on their second series when they called what essentially amounted to a fake triple option to set up the reverse. I doubt there was a read involved, but Hogan started with running backs on either side of him in the backfield and began the play by putting the ball into the belly of the tailback on his right (Remound Wright). He pulled the ball out and ran to the right with a pitch back option. Suddenly, Stanford's versatile game breaker Kelsey Young ran in between Hogan and the pitch back option (Tyler Gaffney) and Hogan flipped the ball to him for a reverse going back to the left. They used the Wright who was originally involved in the fake hand off as a lead blocker and that cleared the way for a 32 yard run that eventually set up a one yard Gaffney touchdown.

I had a feeling Stanford was holding back against San Jose State and Army and was just waiting to spring some fancy new offensive concepts and boy did we ever see them last night. Unfortunately, the Stanford of the first two weeks of the season isn't entirely dead yet as the Cardinal seemed to relax with their big lead and fell asleep in the fourth quarter. It wasn't as if ASU suddenly found some confidence and mounted a few drives on offense. Stanford surrendered a bunch of big plays that allowed ASU to make the final score look way closer than it ever was. On the Devils' first drive of the fourth, the Cardinal missed a couple tackles to allow a 21 yard catch and run for D.J. Foster. That set up a 45 yard touchdown catch for tight end Chris Coyle two plays later as Stanford completely blew the coverage and left Coyle open by about 15 yards in the middle of the field.

Stanford followed that with a three and out on offense as they banged backup running back Wright into the middle of the defense. After punting the ball back to the Sun Devils, Stanford watched as Foster picked up another 21 yards followed by Jaelen Strong getting open on a fourth and two and scoring a 27 yard touchdown thanks to a terrible tackling angle taken by the Stanford free safety. Stanford followed with another effortless three and out with three runs up the middle and punted the ball back to ASU. Another blown coverage gave Strong a 34 yard catch on a 4th and 19 which set up a six yard touchdown for Marion Grice on a 3rd down swing pass that went for six thanks to more poor angles and lazy backside pursuit.

With the score cut to 39-28, ASU failed to recover an onside kick. Stanford called three more runs and ended up in a 4th and one at the ASU 38. The Sun Devils evidently thought Stanford was going to punt but when Stanford left its offense on the field, that created chaos on the Sun Devil sideline and caused a substitution infraction that gave Stanford a free first down. Stanford was able to bleed most of the clock and kick a field goal to go up 14. However, the Cardinal still left enough time for Taylor Kelly to complete another 30 yard pass before Alex Carter mercifully intercepted a Hail Mary attempt in the end zone to finish this game.

If you try to assess Stanford, I think their true identity is far more similar to what we saw in the first three quarters than what we saw at the end of the game. We know Stanford is great up front, they have some good tailbacks, and their defense is nasty and does not yield an inch. Ty Montgomery is finally starting to realize his potential as a number one receiver and my Nate Longshore-esque fears of a Kevin Hogan sophomore regression appear unfounded. All that said, Stanford can't sit back like that. this is the same thing I killed Washington for last week and it's the reason why I will still have Oregon and UCLA as the top two teams in the conference the next time I do my power rankings. Oregon and UCLA have kept their foot on their opponents throats with both their offense and defense even after lifting their starters. Stanford needs to show a killer instinct and they absolutely cannot give up so many open receivers.

As for Arizona State, I still think they have a very good team but they are nowhere close to being on the level of an elite program. In the first half of their most recent meetings against the class of the Pac-12 (Oregon and Stanford), ASU has been outscored 72-7. My fear for ASU is they are quickly getting physically worn down. After facing physical defensive fronts in Wisconsin and Stanford, ASU will now have to line up against USC, perhaps the best defensive front in college football. Literally adding to ASU's pain is the health of their stout defensive tackle Jaxon Hood. Hood limped off the field late in the first half and returned after halftime on crutches. Backup Jake Sheffield stepped into Hood's spot and was plowed for the rest of the game. USC has a poor offensive line but even they might be able to road grade the middle of ASU's defense if Hood has to miss next week's game.

One final side note, Stanford's All-American safety Ed Reynolds was ejected from the game in the 4th quarter for what might be the most egregious targeting violation I have seen since the NCAA started cracking down on head shots. By rule, if a player is ejected for targeting in the 2nd half he is automatically suspended for the first half of the following game. Reynolds can appeal but he most certainly will lose and sit for 30 minutes against Washington State next Saturday. The Pac-12 does review all targeting ejections and can increase suspensions to an entire game. I don't think they will do it but, there is a case to be made for Reynolds being sat down for the entire Wazzou game. Stanford should beat the Cougars with or without Reynolds but the concern for them now is that officials will be watching Reynolds like a hawk for the rest of the season. Stanford has a ton of depth up front (I bet you haven't even noticed that All-Pac-12 end Henry Anderson hasn't played this year), but they have no one who can replace Reynolds and they can't afford to have him thrown out against a top team like Washington, UCLA, or Oregon. Stanford and Reynolds need to tread very carefully.

Oregon State 34, San Diego State 30

Remember when I said that Oregon State would roll in this game because San Diego State sucks? Yeah, that didn't really materialize. As mentioned above, four games is enough of a sample size to start making conclusions and I'm ready to make a conclusion about Oregon State's defense: they are not good. The box score actually suggests OSU played pretty well on defense as the Beavers tallied five sacks, caught a pair of interceptions, held SDSU to 4-14 on 3rd downs, and 74 rushing yards. But the missed tackles, my goodness they looked every bit as sloppy in the fundamentals as they have all season.

The Beavers offense also struggled for the first time all year. The box score once again suggests that the Beavers were decent as Sean Mannion completed 38/55 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns. Brandin Cooks was finally held out of the end zone but he did catch 14 passes for 141 yards. So Oregon State was pretty good on offense right?

[looks at Beavers' rushing numbers]

[excuses self to go vomit]

San Diego State had been allowing an average of 215 yards per game but through three quarters yesterday, Oregon State had accumulated exactly zero rushing yards. Oh but don't worry, they did manage to produce 10 yards on the ground in the 4th quarter. The Beavers took an early 14-7 lead but their lack of a run game and aforementioned poor tackling kept SDSU's offense on the field as the Beavers went scoreless in the second and third quarters and fell behind 27-14. I'm not entirely sure how OSU salvaged this game. The Beavers scored to cut the lead to 27-21 and forced a punt to get the ball back. However, two plays into their succeeding drive Cooks made a rare mistake when he fumbled and gave the ball back to SDSU on the Beavers' 17. An unsportsmanlike penalty pushed the ball back to the 32 and OSU managed to hold the Aztecs to a field goal which pushed the game back to a two possession difference.

The Beavers finally managed a big drive as the Beavers took over with 5:18 left and went 81 yards over 10 plays in 2:38 to cut the lead to two. With all three timeouts still available, the Beavers kicked the ball deep and got a big play from their defense. SDSU quarterback Quinn Kaehler made one of the worst passes I have ever seen as he double clutched on a screen passes and ended up throwing off his back foot six yards over his receiver's head and straight to OSU corner Steven Nelson. Nelson returned the pick for a 16 yard touchdown to retake the lead and that was the difference in the game. Now a win is a win but Oregon State should not need a crazy comeback to beat SDSU. before the game, the Aztecs were in the bottom 20 in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense and lost by three touchdowns to FCS Eastern Illinois. There is no excuse for this game being close at halftime never mind the fact that SDSU darn near won this game outright. Mannion and Cooks are still great but the Beavers defense is bad and the Beavers run game sans Storm Woods is worse than anyone could have anticipated. These are still the Beavers and they will always be scrappy and competitive but this is a flawed team that does not belong among the Pac-12's elite.

Utah 20, Brigham Young 13

Utah bludgeoned BYU with its front seven and suffocated the Cougars offense en route to their fourth consecutive win in the Holy War. The Utes absolutely outclassed the Cougars up front as defensive ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard totally dominated the edges and funneled BYU's running game toward the middle of the field where the Cougars' interior offensive line couldn't get any push. Utah did a masterful job of pushing back BYU's offensive line and did not allow the Cougars to get blockers to the second level. That allowed Utah's linebackers to roam around untouched and make easy tackles which prevented BYU from busting any long runs (other than one 41 yard burst) as they did so frequently against Texas. The Cougars torched Texas for 550 rushing yards but managed only 183 on 47 carries (3.9 yards per rush average) against the Utes. Cougars QB Taysom Hill was brutal trying to pass the ball as he completed only 18/48 passes yet somehow managed to raise his season completion percentage.

The Utah offense struggled throughout the night against the Cougars great defense but managed to hit two big plays that proved to be the difference in the game. James Poole has finally become a number one tailback for the Utes but last night he gained only 34 yards on 17 of his carries. However, Poole managed to bust one loose in the 1st quarter as he hit a hole on the left side set by star left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi and made one man miss on his way to a 65 yard run that set up a short field goal.

Dres Anderson who has quickly become one of the Pac-12's premier wide receivers made a number of catches underneath the coverage that helped in part to set up a second field goal drive. With the score 6-0 and Utah backed up to their own 20 with under three minutes left in the first half, Utah QB Travis Wilson finally burned the BYU defense over the top. Utah spent the entire first half throwing short and setting up a double move so that finally with about two minutes until halftime, a BYU corner jumped a Wilson pump fake on an Anderson slant route but Anderson pulled a double move and was loose in the secondary for a big play. Wilson hit Anderson with a rainbow over the top and Anderson took the ball all the way to the one yard line for a 74 yard gain. The Utes punched the ball in two plays later and suddenly had full control of the game at 13-0 entering halftime.

BYU cut the lead to seven after a pair of field goals but Utah put together one long drive that spanned the end of the 3rd quarter and the begging of the 4th that finished with a two yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Karl Williams that made the score 20-6 and basically sealed the game. BYU did manage to score a touchdown to cut the lead to 20-13 and had the ball with a chance to tie twice late but they couldn't get it done against a stifling effort from Utah's defense. In addition to the Cougars' two shots to tie late, BYU also blew all their early chances as they failed to score a touchdown on each of their first four red zone attempts before finally scoring on their fifth try.

This was a great win for Utah that gets them to 3-1 and if they could have gotten just one stop last week against the Beavers they would be 4-0 and nationally ranked. Even with the one loss, the Utes look like a very strong team and one that finally belongs in the Pac-12. I thought it would be a struggle for Utah to reach six wins and make a bowl game this year but right now they look like they are in very good shape to qualify for the postseason.

Washington State 42, Idaho 0

The State of Washington has officially annexed the state of Idaho as the two FBS Washington schools combined to go 3-0 against the two FBS Idaho schools and its one FCS school by a total score of 136-6. Yes Idaho, all your potatoes belong to Washington now, deal with it. The one observation you can take out of this game is that Wazzou QB Connor Halliday still does not look good in the pocket. Halliday threw two more interceptions and has thrown at least one pick in all four games this year giving him eight for the year, tied for the most in college football. Halliday's throwing mechanics look particularly bad as he is continuously throwing off his back foot particularly when trying to go deep. It is such an obvious and glaring mechanical flaw and frankly it's something that should have been ironed out in high school.

Not much else happened in the game that was of any note until the postgame handshake:

I didn't watch the end of this game because there is no reason to watch a contest that is 42-0 in the 4th quarter unless you are a diehard fan of one of the teams involved. Mike Leach declined to talk about the incident above and Idaho coach Paul Petrino said it was "Between me and him." But, apparently Leach left his defensive starters in the game all the way to the end likely to preserve Washington State's first shutout since 2003. I have no problem with this but Petrino probably did which led him to say something to Leach during the handshake which led to Leach saying a certain word that you can't say on network television. Oh well, Washington State is now 3-1 and feeling good heading into a match up for first place in the Pac-12 North with Stanford next week.

#13 UCLA 59, New Mexico State 13

What you are looking at above is UCLA's first play from scrimmage against NMSU. Do you notice something wrong? You should because there are only 10 Bruins on the field with a missing man at wide receiver. The reason for this can also be seen in the still frame above as Jim Mora sent his team out a man short for the first play in honor of Nick Pasquale. Pasquale as I'm sure you know by now was killed two weeks ago after being struck by a vehicle in his hometown of San Clemente, CA during the Bruins' bye week. That "Pasquale 36" logo on the field is pretty poignant too as it is placed at the spot on the field where Pasquale lined up for his only career snap three weeks ago against Nevada.

There was nothing to learn form this game. NMSU was a hopelessly over matched team and they played like it as the Bruins ran away with an easy victory. The lesson from the Bruins game is the same as it was last week. Some things are bigger than football, and the UCLA coaches and players understand that better than anyone.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Saturday Slate Week Four: Arizona State and Stanford set for a showdown and yep that's about it

You know how your significant other is always bothering you about doing nothing except watch football on Saturdays? She/he constantly bothers you about how you never get the yard work done and you haven't taken a Saturday night out in weeks but guess what? Your companion is in luck today. Why is that you ask? It's because this week's schedule is rancid, awful, and unwatchable save for one big game that I will get to in a moment. The Pac-12 schedule looks boring enough but don't bother looking outside the conference for good games because the only thing you will see outside the pacific time zone are tears of boring sadness. So put the ASU-Stanford game on DVR and take your lady or man out for a nice seafood dinner and then call them in the morning.

Now, if you are a single degenerate like me you will probably chose to stay in and watch this wasteland of a schedule and you know what? That's okay. The college football season is sadly brief and fleeting. Savor every taste of college football, even the stuff that tastes like old sushi that was made by a white person. Here is what's happening in the Pac-12 today.

All Times are Pacific

Bye Weeks: Oregon, California, Colorado, Arizona. The Ducks and Bears each get a week off to prepare to score points, points, points (and more points) in their meeting in Eugene next week. Colorado was given a default bye last week after their game with Fresno State was postponed and will now get this week off meaning the Buffs will have three weeks of rest in between their games against Central Arkansas on Sept. 7 and Oregon State on Sept. 28. Arizona has a nice bye week set up as they refocus following the end of non-conference play and get set for a huge conference opener against Washington in Seattle next week. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Washington basically has the week off too...

Idaho State at #17 Washington (-50), 12:00 PM on Pac-12 Network

Can Washington hit the over by themselves? Will Keith Price throw an incompletion? Will Bishop Sankey hit 200 yards by halftime? Find out at noon on Pac-12 Network! Make no mistake about it, this game will be a joke and it's not worth your attention. Washington is a borderline top 10 team getting a nice cupcake game to wrap up a tough non-conference schedule. Idaho State by contrast is...wait, they're 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 69-17! Wow, break up the Bengals, we could have an Eastern Washington-Oregon State situation here!

Oh wait, those two wins are over Division II Dixie State and Western State (which yields no results on Google, it's probably a school located in Kandahar). Upon examining ISU's 2012 schedule, you will find that the Bengals went 1-10 and surrendered 70+ points four times and held an NCAA opponent under 50 points exactly once. So yeah, Idaho State sucks and they're going to get slaughtered which means the only competition here is the point spread. 50 points is a lot but Washington has a top 10 offense and Idaho State by the looks of things has one of the worst defenses ever assembled. I'll go ahead and lock up the Huskies 70-3.

Utah State at USC (-6.5), 12:30 PM on ABC

As much as most of the college football media loves to poke fun at this week's set of games this one might actually be pretty good. Utah State comes in hot at 2-1 following blowout wins over Weber State and Air Force. The Aggies could very easily be 3-0 as they held a nine point second half lead on the road against Utah in week one but lost a heart breaker. Utah State is eighth in the nation in scoring offense at 49.3 points per game and has done it with star power and balance. Junior QB Chuckie Keeton emerged as a bonafide star in college football last year and has put together one of the nation's most ridiculous stat lines through three games in 2013. Keeton has completed 82 of 105 passes (78.1%) for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns with only one interception. As great a passer as he is, Keeton might be a better runner with 187 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. That is good for a 6.68 yards per carry average that puts him 13th among all quarterbacks.The Aggies have had stable production from three tailbacks in addition to Keeton that have allowed the Aggies to stay ahead of schedule and face short third downs. As a result the Aggies are converting on better than 65% of their 3rd down attempts, making it very difficult for opposing defenses to get them off the field.

USC will try to counter Keeton with the nation's number two run defense (only 43 yards per game surrendered on the ground). We know USC is great up front as they have dominated opposing offensive lines all season but what we don't know is if the secondary is all that good or not. The Trojans have not yet faced a QB anywhere near the caliber of Keeton and they simply have not seen a top quality passer who can hit open receivers since the UCLA game last year. The Trojans secondary has tightened things up the last couple weeks but they allowed a lot of open receivers in week one against Hawaii but it didn't hurt them as Hawaii QB Taylor Graham had a dreadful game. Even if the USC secondary holds up, Keeton is a good enough passer to throw to covered receivers and place the ball perfectly where only his guy can get it. Because of that, it is going to be critical for USC's defensive line to get pressure on Keeton and knock him out of rhythm. As great as Keeton is, he won't be able to throw effectively if he is not getting room in the pocket to step into his throws or if he is lying on his back. USC will need to affect Keeton's ability to stand and throw in the pocket but do it without losing containment and allowing him to scramble for first downs. This is certainly a tall order but if any defense has the ability to pull it off, it's the Trojans.

As for the USC offense, well I don't really know what to expect. They were dreadful for two weeks and then looked great seven days ago. Settling on just one QB in Cody Kessler was a smart move as Kessler played with way more confidence last week and his teammates seemed to play better with the uncertainty at QB lifted. Now we must find out if Kessler and this reinvigorated USC offense can remain productive or if last week was a flash in the pan. Utah State is a step up in competition from Boston College but they have holes on defense. The Aggies were shredded by Travis Wilson of Utah in week one particularly by deep throws but their two opponents since, triple-option team Air Force and FCS Weber State, didn't have the ability to exploit those holes.

I'm still not sold on Kessler and I need to see him remain effective over the course of several weeks before I believe in him. That being said, I think USC's cast of receivers can run open on the Aggies and Kessler will just need to throw competent passes to keep the chains moving. This feels like a close game to me and one where USC fans are breathing heavily well into the second half but I think USC's defense can hold down Keeton for the most part while getting just enough big plays on offense to win. I do like the points in this game but I'll take USC to win 28-24.

 #23 Arizona State at #5 Stanford (-6.5), 4:00 PM on Fox

Tonight we can finally welcome Stanford to the 2013 college football season as the Cardinal will no longer be able to hold back and play possum against the Sun Devils. If you watched a second of Stanford's breezy wins over San Jose State and Army it was pretty evident that the coaches were holding back on their game plan. The offense consisted of only a handful of basic plays run from different formations with some slight variations while the defense mostly played base zone defenses and relied on their athletes to win battles. Stanford's athletes could very well be the difference tonight again but the Cardinal will need more than that to knock of the Sun Devils.

ASU will present an intriguing challenge for Stanford's mammoth offensive line. At first glance, you would think ASU would struggle up front against the Cardinal given their diminutive stature. None of the Sun Devils starters up front are taller than 6'2'' which is almost unheard of but they make up for it in a number of ways. ASU loves to use two gap principles, meaning they line up their defensive linemen directly in front of the opposing offensive lineman instead of lining them up in the gaps in between the offensive front. One of the advantages of being short up front is having elite movement skills. That allows the ASU D-line to shift and get into what ever hole they need to go to. By using two gap principles, it's almost impossible to have a bad run fit because you aren't leaving any gaps in the O-line unaccounted for. The down side is that it is much easier for an offensive lineman to get his hands on a defender and drive block him backwards if the defender is lined up right in front of him. What you will probably see happen is ASU calling a lot of run blitzes and trying to attack the line of scrimmage with their linebackers to try to create a schematic advantage that can overcome the physical advantage that Stanford possesses. This means that there will be play action pass opportunities and open receivers available down the middle of the field.

Stanford has been content to run the ball right at the two over matched defenses they have faced so far but doing that again might be playing right into the Devils' hands. Arizona State did struggle against the run last week but that was mostly due to being unable to contain Wisconsin's explosive tailback Melvin Gordon. Frequently throughout the Wisconsin game, the ASU defense had angles and proper containment on Gordon but he simply beat those angles with his athleticism and caused a lot of missed tackles. All due respect to Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson but they do not have the type of raw ability that Gordon has. Stanford's backs are more like Wisconsin's other quality tailback James White. White is a very good runner but he also does not possess Gordon's elite athleticism and made almost no impact on last week's game thanks to ASU's defense. the Wisconsin match up is almost perfect practice for ASU as the Badgers also have a very big and physical offensive line and an offensive scheme mostly based on a power running attack. ASU was able to use its athleticism up front against the Badgers and outmaneuver them; they just might be able to do the same to the Cardinal.

There are two key differences for Stanford that will help them maintain an advantage where Wisconsin could not. The Badgers offensive line may be comparable to Stanford in terms of sheer size and physical playing style however, Stanford's linemen are far more athletic. Stanford's front has the foot speed to match ASU and can keep them from slanting, twisting, and stunting into those holes. Also, Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is a far better player than Wisconsin's Joel Stave. There were opportunities to throw in behind the ASU linebackers last week but Stave just wasn't good enough to deliver the ball. If Stanford can push back Will Sutton and company and force ASU's linebackers to creep up, Hogan can deliver the ball on play action and find big passing plays on first and second down.

As for the Sun Devil offense against the great Stanford defense, it's no secret ASU will be in tough. On the surface it seemed like ASU had a good game offensively against the Badgers as Taylor Kelly threw for 352 yards and Marion Grice scored four touchdowns. However, Kelly had to attempt 51 passes to hit that yardage mark while Grice was held to just 3.8 yards per attempt. Despite a distinct advantage in team speed, the Sun Devils struggled to stretch the field and especially with their usually great zone read. Wisconsin attacked ASU's running backs and forced Kelly to keep the ball but Kelly wasn't able to outrun Wisconsin's relatively slow linebackers. The one player who did have a great game with no caveats was WR Jaelen Strong who used his athleticism and his big body to over power Wisconsin's corners and make a couple back shoulder grabs in some critical spots late in the game. However, Stanford has arguably the most physical corners in the nation and they will be able to match up better with Strong than anyone else the Sun Devils will face this year.

At the end of the day, I think the Sun Devils defense can play the Stanford offense essentially to a draw but I just don't see how ASU's offense can keep up. I think this game stays relatively close for awhile but at some point, Stanford is going to put together a couple drives in the second half and ASU just won't be able to answer. I think Stanford dominates in the fourth quarter and ends up winning more comfortably than you might expect, 30-17.

Oregon State (-8) at San Diego State, 4:30 PM on CBS Sports Network

The Beavers will look to keep rolling offensively and they just might get a defensive match up they can actually win. The Aztecs of San Diego State have been pitiful this year as they are one of only nine teams to be ranked 100th or worse nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Aztecs are coming off a bye which is always great but before that week off they got shellacked by Ohio State and not only lost to FCS Eastern Illinois but were blown out.

Even when SDSU has been good their games have been poorly attended. A sparse crowd in an NFL stadium sitting far away from the field means there is no intimidation factor for OSU on the road this week at all. The Beavers should roll all over the Aztecs this week and the fact that this line is only at eight is stealing money. I know the Beavers have struggled defensively this year but SDSU can't move the ball on anyone. The only compelling story for this game is the amount of yards Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks can pile up in their ongoing quest to rewrite the Beavers record book. I think the Beavers will crush the Aztecs, 52-21.

 Utah at BYU (-7), 7:15 PM on ESPN2

College football's best named and most underrated rivalry continues tonight in Provo as the Utes and Cougars look to define their seasons in the 95th Holy War. There was already plenty of fresh fire for this confrontation following the ending of last year's game. Even more vitriol was added to this clash after a Utah fan acquired photos of a BYU player partying in Las Vegas (and therefore violating BYU's strict honor code) and used them to get the player suspended for five games. Adding to the fire is the fact that both teams are very good but are saddled with difficult schedules that will make six wins a challenge. Simply put, the difference between making and missing a bowl game could come down to this game for both teams.

BYU is a tough team to figure out. The Cougars have only played two games this year and looked like complete opposites in both. BYU opened on the road against Virginia and slogged their way to a sloppy 19-16 loss (by the way that same Virginia team gave up 59 points the following week). Then the Cougars returned home to face then #15 Texas and opened up a can whoop ass on the Longhorns with 550 rushing yards (yes that is accurate) in a 40-21 win. So what offense will show up following a bye week against the Utes? Will BYU look disjointed and struggle to execute like they did against Virginia? Or will BYU's run game become a traveling road show and produce the way it did against Texas?

BYU is definitely not as good as the Texas game suggests. Texas has one of the worst defenses in the nation and stupidly used five and six man defensive fronts against the Cougars and missed at least 20 tackles. I also don't think the Cougars are as bad as they showed against Virginia. The truth of BYU's offense lies somewhere in the middle however, I think their passing offense is bad regardless. BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is one of the best running quarterbacks in college football thanks in large part to a 259 yard outing against Texas. Unfortunately for him "running quarterback" is a perfect descriptor of him because he is one of the worst passers in college football. Hill is currently completing 33% of his passes (22/66) for just one touchdown and a pair of interceptions. His passer efficiency rating is 70.96 which puts him outside the top 100 most efficient quarterbacks by about 30 points. It's not like this is the result of a tiny sample size either since Hill is averaging 33 pass attempts per game.

It is imperative therefore for Utah's stout defensive line, the strength of their team aside from QB Travis Wilson to stop BYU's run game and force Hill to win this game with his arm. If Utah can stop BYU on the ground the battle will not be instantly won as they also must account for wide receiver Cody Hoffman. Hoffman caught 100 passes for 1248 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and is expected to be one of the top wide receivers in the upcoming NFL draft. Hoffman missed the opening game with a hamstring injury but returned against Texas. With Hill struggling and BYU running the ball with such ease, Hoffman only managed two catches. With two weeks of rest since that Texas game, Hoffman should be back to 100% and that spells trouble for Utah. Utah may force Hill to go to the air but Hoffman is good enough to allow BYU's offense to turn into "throw it up 40 yards for Cody and see what happens." It is imperative that Utah double covers Hoffman at all times in addition to winning at the line of scrimmage.

As for when Utah has the ball, they might need a slightly different game plan than what they used against Oregon State last week. Travis Wilson should still be able to find open receivers down field but running the ball will be a challenge. BYU has one of the stingiest run defenses in the nation, allowing less than three yards per carry this season against two decent running teams. BYU's great performance against the run is certainly no fluke either as the Cougars dominated up front last year allowing 2.74 yards per carry for the season while allowing only five rushing touchdowns. BYU has a very athletic group of linebackers led by All-American and future first round pick Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy presents a unique challenge because he can rush the passer, drop into coverage, spy the QB, or track down the running back and do it all at an elite level. The Cougars will line him up at all four linebacker positions in their 3-4 alignment making him very difficult to stop.

Normally, teams will use a particular player at all four spots as strictly a pass rusher and they move him around to try to confuse the offensive line and make it difficult to adjust their blocking scheme. Utah will have to find Van Noy before every play but that is only half the battle as they must then figure out what he's going to do. You can adjust your blocking scheme and give extra help to the offensive lineman assigned to Van Noy but that is potentially going to open up holes elsewhere in the defense particularly if Van Noy isn't rushing the passer on a given play.

Once this game gets underway and the two teams and fan bases can take their anger out on each other, I expect to see a great game. Both offenses will likely be forced to play one dimensionally as BYU will struggle to throw the ball and Utah will have issues on the ground. I'm really tempted to go with BYU simply because the Cougars are coming off a bye while Utah just played an emotionally draining overtime game. Then again I do think Utah is the better team and if this game is close in the fourth, the team that can get big pass plays to flip field position and get into scoring range always has an advantage. I expect to see a pretty low scoring game and one where Travis Wilson continues to build his star by leading a couple big drives in the 4th quarter of a 27-24 Utah victory.

Idaho at Washington State (-31), 7:30 PM on Pac-12 Network (regional broadcast)

Oregon State's opponent is one of nine teams ranked in the triple digits for both scoring offense and scoring defense and coincidentally, Washington State's foe is another such team. After a an easy game against FCS cupcake Southern Utah, Wazzou gets another easy outing against one of the FBS' worst. It feels weird to say this about the Cougars given how bad the program has been for the last decade but if they show up they should win big. Connor Halliday finally got on track and took care of the ball last week and I want to see if he can keep that going and build some momentum and confidence for himself as the Cougars head into the meat of their schedule.

The Cougars defense has been great this year as they lead the nation in pass defense and are one of only four teams that hasn't allowed a passing touchdown heading into today. The Cougars have been solid against the run as well allowing just 4.16 yards per carry which combined with their great pass defense puts them at 11th in the nation in total defense. The Cougs should be great again facing an Idaho offense that simply can't match up with them. There is no way Idaho will be able to block Wazzou's front and their receivers simply do not possess the athleticism to get open against their great secondary. I probably won't watch this one and neither will anyone who isn't a Wazzou fan but I will go ahead and take the Cougars to cover and win 45-7.

New Mexico State at #13 UCLA (-42.5), 7:30 PM on Pac-12 Network

To complete the trifecta of Pac-12 opponents ranked 100th or worse in scoring offense and scoring defense, UCLA returns home from its epic comeback win over Nebraska to face the lowly Aggies. This is the first Bruins home game since Nick Pasquale's death so there should be a powerful and touching tribute and moment of silence to him before the game. Once UCLA moves on from the emotions of the pregame ceremony, they will stomp the Aggies. Simply put, NMSU does not have a single advantage over UCLA in any personnel match up and the Bruins should score at will while stifling the Aggies' offense.

UCLA is a great team and one without any major flaws. I'm starting to reach "UCLA minus anything" territory and I'm going to start today. The Bruins win big in this one, 59-6.

Last Week Against the Spread: 6-4

Last Week Straight Up: 9-1

This Season Against the Spread: 18-11

This Season Straight up: 24-5