Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Fire when ready!

Opening shots are, depending upon the level of planning, to see where the damned shell lands or to hit close to the target with adjustment to come. I used to do that professionally. This opening salvo is a confusing mix of both, pretty much what you can expect for the first several weeks because I am not going go ACD on getting to know teams outside the conference on purpose. Kind of like the way my wife sees my house cleaning expertise. I’m retired but still don’t have enough time to get that involved in either endeavor and am in no way fearful I’ll lose my job here on the blog.

My first test comes on August 28 when California hosts Hawaii in Australia. Now that’s the way to host a party; in someone else’s house so nothing important gets broken. As near as I can figure Cal’s defensive philosophy is to hope the other team self-destructs before they score on a drive. On the other side of the ball they hope things aren’t as bad a losing somewhere around 80% of the players who produced on offense last season. In both cases, hope is going to be answered positively in this game. I’m not betting that will hold true for the rest of the season. Hawaii comes in not much better off. Their Offensive Coordinator was the Coach’s center when he played at Hawaii. My gut feeling is Cal winning the game by a touchdown or two.

Southern Utah plays a Thursday night game in Utah. Considering the difference in play level of the two schools this is an easy shoot from the hip trick, at least as far as predicting a win for Utah. The Utes should be able to pitch a shut-out and even their probably anemic offense should score at least three touchdowns. Their defense alone could easily outscore Southern Utah in a game they should win by at least 28 points.

When Oregon State opens the same night in Minnesota they have several things going for them. First is if they lose, only a few of their cow country fans probably have access to the Big10 network, the only place to watch the game. Second is they are playing the Gophers. Farmers know how to handle those. Both teams are in about the same shape. Maybe Minnesota has a QB who can continue to remain a strong mediocre one while we don’t know OSU has. Ryan Nall will run the ball for the Beavs against a bend-but-don’t-break defense and the last time he did so he gained a lot of yards against Oregon. Neither head coach has proven capable of establishing a great recruiting record in their early years at their respective schools so a team making radical improvement won’t emerge. Only because of my anti-east-coast bias will I predict a touchdown or so advantage for Oregon State.  That and the Big 10ish tradition of losing early season games to mediocre teams.

It took more time to find my football magazines (see opening paragraph remark about my housekeeping skill) than to predict a Friday night win by Stanford over Kansas State. Even remembering the Indians’ opening game loss last year to an inferior team I’m sticking to that. That fiasco should serve as a wake-up for this year. KSU predicted to finish 8th in the 9 team Big 12 is on the road vs a strong contender in the Pac12 north. Wildcat fans are probably happy this is not a home game.

Meanwhile in Colorado it’s a tussle between the Rams and the Buffalo. Common sense says most Pac12 teams should beat most Mountain West teams. The key word here is “most”. CSU has proven a tough opponent almost every year Colorado has been a member of the conference. The last three years CU has watched other teams play bowl games while the Rams have played in them, and probably will again this year while the Buffs probably won’t. Colorado State has a great chance, and will probably capitalize on it, to give their instate rivals a loss by a touchdown or so.

Rutgers plays UW on the first Saturday. While I don’t see Washington as good a team as most prognosticators do, I don’t see the Scarlet Knights as good as the Huskies are. However, if there is a trap game in Week 1, this is it.  In the end the scoreboard should indicate a touchdown or two more for the home team.

UCLA is good match against Texas A&M even on the road. Regardless of how the rest of the season goes the Bruins usually open with a strong showing on the road. They don’t play Oregon this year but this game could be a good substitute. Unless it is high scoring UCLA should be OK. They have plenty of experience facing fast paced read option type teams and TAMU is not going to be a finished product right out of the box. IF the visitors have a quarterback they will pull off an upset by about 10 points. You CAN get ten points in overtime, right?

UC-Davis and Northern Arizona vs Oregon and ASU respectively aren’t worth mentioning except for the fact they are on the schedule. If either PAC12 team loses there is a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

It won’t be that easy in Tucson where BYU will be as loaded as they ever are. 16 starters from a team that went 9-4 last year and a couple former starters returning from injury will populate their line-up. There’s bound to be a returning missionary or two worth mentioning on top of that. I don’t see Anu as a QB who can win a shoot-out, which this might not be if Arizona doesn’t click on offense. Sorry Cat fans, this one is a loss, possibly a smashing one.

Washington State is taking the day off so that leaves only one more game to predicticate. Let’s see  … oh yeah … ‘Bama is visiting USC in a very un-SEC like opening game. Normally before their first tough game the Tide has rolled over a couple of opponents like Sisters of the Poor or the School for the Hopeless  … both as home games. Most people would predict USC won’t fare much better but Saban can do less with more than any other school except USC.  Alabama has the top recruiting class often enough they should win the national championship nearly every year. They win some but not as often as they should. The Trojans aren’t far behind in recruiting but have dropped back a way in winning games or even keeping coaches and AD’s. This may be a turnaround year.

I explained why SC’s loss of scholarships problem is the excuse but not the reason for their records the past few seasons in my last post. They have been a full participation for a couple of years. Now they have a new AD and a new head coach which are past due. I look for them to settle down and play much better. We don’t know how Alabama is going to do with a new quarterback, opening on the road vs a tough opponent. I’m looking for Troy to pull off the upset,

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A real close look at 2016

If last year was the year of the quarterback in the Pac12, this year is the year of who’s the quarterback. Even the teams with returning QB’s aren’t bragging about it, at least until last call at the local bar. With Sarkisian gone, they aren’t even doing it there.

When you get right down to it, the best experienced quarterback in the conference is, wait for it – I told you I have a green and yellow bias and I promised you humor –, in Eugene where grad transfer Dakota Prukop was an all-American at the FCS level playing the same type of offense and has been on campus since spring practice. Arizona should step up and argue that with me and Washington fans would if they read this thing.  Anu Solomon has grown up from a flashy freshman to become a journeyman signal caller, but journeyman does not equate with stellar anywhere it is used. “Jake Browning”, “Jake Browning” I hear echoing from up north. Well, Jake was surprisingly good for a freshman (see Anu Solomon, two years ago model) which made him a serviceable quarterback with a lot to prove his second season. The only decent team UW beat last year was USC while the Trojans were still a bit of a hot mess. They did that by two points in a low scoring game.

If the Quarterback is not a dead cinch to carry you, the running backs have to. There are really only two who have the ability to do that. Some guy named McCaffery in Palo Alto and Royce Freeman for Oregon can tote the ball for 100 yards or more most games, against anybody. Miles Gaskin for UW has the potential to join the club if Browning proves to be a good passer. Otherwise, if he is expected to run, he’ll have a tough time getting to that level.

At this point you may have noticed I haven’t high-lighted any southern division schools. USC should stand out from the group. They have had grade A recruiting classes for more years than I have fingers and the only place I am a butcher is in this blog. They have for quite a while produced grade B and C teams. Troy’s diary has a lot of blank pages, at least as far at football games go. They have a coach who should last the season now and will likely start building a machine again, but not this year.

Everybody gets around to talking about wide receivers and tight ends, except me. Those guys break plays, look exciting, and sometimes make a difference in the game, but everybody except Utah has a stable full of them. They are replaceable because, let’s face it most of them are bigger than the defenders, run routes they and the quarterback know are coming, and are fast. Decent ones are good for seven or eight yards per play while better ones make downfield blocks and occasionally break free for long gains. Everybody has lots of those except Utah.

Defense, we are told, wins games. In the Pac12 nobody has one except Utah. Cal relied on one until last year but lost the recipe as well as lot more games than a team with the number 1 NFL draft pick should have. Stanford simulates one largely because they play efficient old fashioned smash-mouth offense and gives their defense more time on the sideline. Oregon State used to try that but, for a while now, have failed to consistently put an offense of any kind on the turf. The Utes can actually hold teams down so their anemic offense can produce enough points to win some games. Otherwise I could drop my opening sentence in this paragraph regarding the conference.

The greatest enemy of any defense, on either side of the ball, is an offense that runs a play every 20 seconds or so, maybe less. A lot of the conference teams do that because it wears out the opposing defense as the game moves along. Post Chip Kelly, there are a lot of enemies in the offenses out here, some made more dangerous to their own counterparts by the dreaded three and out. With only a minute or two the D has to come back out and ply their trade before they get much time to recuperate. Ask Oregon about the two halves of their bowl game last year.

I like kickers in football as much as I do in soccer so I won’t talk about them except to say, if they become important, several other things need fixing.

It’s always too early to predict the final standings given the injuries and surprise breakout players. Still, us pundits whether anointed or self-proclaimed, have to step up and let loose sooner or later. Here’s my shot.


Oregon            Prukop looks like the real thing and is still being pushed for the job, meaning all of the duck eggs are not in one basket. I’m betting Brady Hoke improves the defense.

Stanford          It will be largely the McCaffery show but he is a hell of an actor. They play Oregon in Eugene which could make the difference but the Indians are not unfamiliar with pulling upsets there.

Washington/Washington State          Whoever wins the Apple Bowls finishes third. Washington’s bandwagon has to travel to Palo Alto and Eugene where it will empty out some each time.

California        Because the other northern team is Oregon State

Oregon State   Because they have to finish somewhere.


            USC                  Sooner or later all that talent has to do something right.

UCLA               Almost against my better judgment, but they had a couple pretty      recruiting years.

Arizona/Utah   Which ever one can find an offense, or even simulate one, first. I lean toward the Utes

Arizona State   Because the other Southern team is Colorado

Colorado         Because they have to finish somewhere.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Ignore last year .. I'm back for sure in 2016

The most important thing in evaluating a fast approaching college football season is to listen to the talking heads. I assume they have never been mistaken and have proven so reliable they haven’t been far off in any season of the past decade or so. THE go-to guys season after season are going to show up and inform us, accurately enough that we rush out and buy the magazines they are attached to. In defense of the few times they have missed, arm them with the excuse that they begin writing at about the time the clock runs out on the championship game of the previous season, maybe before in some cases. To be fair, there are gurus who are more pensive, or better procrastinators, who put everything together minutes before they start turning out their report the night before deadline. A few of them are good enough they don’t seem to need any research at all.

    That being the case, I’ll introduce you to some of those guys. First I must establish my own credentials. I have never missed a call in this blog in predicting the winner of even a single game. You can attribute that to this being the first year I have prognosticated here if you want to but it remains a fact. Not one of those guys can say that about their past guesses AND … I don’t charge a penny for my thoughts, meaning you are guaranteed to get your money’s worth.

    Now ... to the pretenders.

    Doug Haller takes the helm for Lindy’s, a preseason magazine Lindy Davis started putting on the stands 35 years ago. I’ve got no idea how well they’ve done in the past, but they are wrong this year, at least regarding the Pac 12. I’ll tell you why after I finish my research. Odds are I will be right.

    First of all, he let them put the Pac-12 on page 168 of the magazine. That’s a big one.

    Then, at first glance, I see Christian McCaffery of Stanford predicted to be the conference MVP. BUT … BUT he predicts Oregon’s Royce Freeman to be the best offensive player. Either could be true but Doug, old boy, both play offense. If either of their teams win they could well be the MVP and for the team to do it, that player is probably going to have to be the best offensive player. Are we into new math here, which probably gives Christian the edge, considering Stanford’s academic reputation? It also helps that Stanford has not had a wide array of stars over the past few seasons, just a few who were good enough to win a lot of games, and appears to be in a position to keep doing it. Oregon spreads it out a lot more and looks to be in position to keep doing that.

     Doug, or his crew, then goes on to predict as defensive player of the year and newcomer of the year players whose names I can barely spell, let alone pronounce. What’s with that, Doug?

    When the season ends the individual stars will be a lot easier to predict which is the main reason I’ll wait to pick them. My guess is that Justin and the rest of the crew will have a lot more hemming and hawing to do in explaining their misses than I will.

    Mainly, Mr. Haller explains that quarterbacks have a lot to do with how well the teams are going to do. Amazing.

  Lindy’s picks are for Stanford and USC to meet in the conference championship game. Some other surprises are for Washington to beat out Oregon, who will edge out Washington State for third in the north. In the south, UCLA is their pick to challenge the Trojans while Utah sits above the rest of the watchers.

    Read the mag for all the details. I’m not writing cliff notes for their work.

    Bruce Pasco who also writes for the Arizona Daily Star heads the team for the Sporting News, that has been around for a lot longer than I have been alive, and I have been receiving social security checks for a while now. But, what do they know about football in Tucson, other than that the Cats will usually beat a favored Sun Devil Squad in the annual ‘So What’ matchup. I think they have about one conference football championship between them since they turned the PAC8 into the Pac10 then tried to make it into the Pac8 again.

     Pasco starts out better in getting the conference up to page 116. Of course I have them on page 1, where they belong.

     In just a few different words the Sporting News staff comes up with an identical predicted finishing standing. Are these guys copying off of the Lindy’s group or is it the other way around? In the end they are guaranteed to be equally wrong.

    Phil Steele’s presentation is more geared toward performance on the betting platform, citing results, some of which were produced by players who have moved out of their lockers … some years ago.  Coaches are studied into performance results. It seems a little risky given the coaching staff changes most teams go through year to year. However, if you like two or three letter/number abbreviations in place of frequently used phrases, this is the magazine for you. If you like predictions, he sometimes gets a few right. In fact, he does better than most, but he hasn’t gone against me yet.

    Don’t get me wrong. His is the first magazine I read. He does more real research than most of the others. If research was all that great, I’d have won in a whole lot more fantasy baseball leagues.

   I read ESPN’s magazine later because it hit the newsstands later. Actually, I’m not sure why I read it, only why I read it later. They do move the conference up to about the middle of the magazine which is thinner, in a lot of ways, than the others. In the end their results are about the same as the others with Oregon in third, behind conference champion-to-be Washington and also-ran Stanford. They will meet USC in Palo Alto while UCLA and Arizona gnash their teeth after barely missing out. Utah and ASU fans wonder why they are picked below the Wildcats all of a sudden. Actually, I don’t, but that’s for a later blog.

  Sports Illustrated is going to throw its hat in the ring closer to opening weekend. Being a weekly magazine they have an advantage there. That's their only advantage and they don't use it well. As far as their record of predicting outcomes goes, they always have great sports photographs. I’ll probably see it and giggle a little when it hits the stands. They are to sports what their publishing partner “Time” is to news. 

There have to be some good sites on the interwebz, Everything good and bad is there someplace. Given time and luck, I’ll discover them as the season rolls along. I’m sure they will provide fodder for next year’s opening volley. One I know about now is worth visiting,  The guys there seem to know what they are talking about and have lots of shiny and sparkly charts for those into those sorts of things.

I’m also lazy enough to accept your discoveries and, until the first kick-off, your predictions.