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.