Pac-12 Preview: Forever Underachieving

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’re well aware the Pac-12 football conference has been struggling to live up to expectations and create a strong national profile. The league finished its 13th year without a National Championship and coming off a bowl season that saw the conference fall flat on its face with a 1-8 overall record.

Here’s to a new season!

Summary of Last Year

USC (#12, 11-3) had one of its quietest league titles in recent memory sneaking past a worn out Stanford (#20, 9-5) in the championship game. Washington (#16, 10-3) were in the title mix until a wacky loss at Arizona State with a defeat in Palo Alto ultimately costing them the North division later in the season.

No one else finished ranked, although Washington State (9-4) felt like they had another really good season despite losing 4 out of their final 7 games after a 6-0 start.

Five of the head coaching jobs turned over during the off-season. Herm Edwards (Arizona State), Kevin Sumlin (Arizona), Mario Cristobal (Oregon), Jonathan Smith (Oregon State), and Chip Kelly (UCLA) have all joined the fun.

In the recruiting game USC (#4) came in their usual top 5 position while Oregon (#13) and Washington (#14) were able to sneak inside the Top 15 with very good classes. UCLA (#19) did quite solid in a transition year then there was a big drop until Utah (#34), Arizona State (#36), and Stanford (#39) in the middle of the pack.

No. 11 overall Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR, USC) is the top recruit in the conference with the next 4 highest ranked players also hauled in by the Trojans. The highest-rated non-USC player went to UCLA in No. 36 overall and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

Top Out of Conference Game: Washington at Auburn [Atlanta]

Straight out of the gate we have this barn burner which could vault the Huskies directly into the playoff conversation. Washington arguably has a 4-game schedule (should be 10+ point favorites in all other games) with a really weak finish (Bye, Oregon State, at Washington State) so hoping for a major victory on opening week has to be the most important non-league game for the Pac-12 conference.

Most Important League Game: Stanford at Washington

Both of these teams finished 7-2 in conference last year and even though Washington was +95 in point differential over Stanford the Huskies missed out on the title game when they fell on the Farm.

If you’re a pessimist the Pac-12 only has 3 true contenders in these two teams plus USC. If so, this is the only league game that should decide the league champion matchups.

Sell 2018: Washington State

The Cougars have been no worse than 3rd in the North division for the past 3 seasons, winning 26 games overall. That’s likely to change with a rebuilding year. A new quarterback in Leach’s offense, 7 new starters overall on offense, plus a trip to USC in the other division. Bowl eligibility could be a struggle.

Buy 2018: UCLA

This is based primarily off the prognosticators expectations with some predicting as bad as a last place finish in the South division. To be fair, things are not looking sunny at the moment for the Bruins. In addition to fitting in many new pieces on offense (Michigan transfer Wilton Speight is in the quarterback competition as in incredibly horrible fit which is hilarious) in Chip Kelly’s system with no clear signal-caller they face maybe the toughest schedule in the entire country. A start of Cincinnati, at Oklahoma, Fresno State isn’t friendly plus they have to play Washington and Stanford in the other division.

I’m just saying, I expect Kelly to rebuild fairly quickly and get a little bit of a surprise from this team. Maybe not much, looking over the schedule it’s real tough finding 4 wins!

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Myles Gaskin, Washington

The easy pick here is Bryce Love but he was so banged up last year and Stanford’s offense should be more well-rounded to preserve their star tailback. Gaskin is heading into his senior season with three-straight 1,300+ yard rushing seasons and should push towards 30 overall touchdowns in 2018.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Bobby Okereke , Stanford

I really like Okereke’s style of play and he came on really strong to end last season. Stanford’s defense likely won’t be awesome, at least during this pre-season doesn’t appear to be stacked with many difference makers, which either makes Okereke’s life quite difficult or he’s let loose and packs the stat sheet. I’m picking the latter.

League Title Game: Washington vs. USC

As mentioned above, this kind of feels like a 3-team league right now with Washington, Stanford, and USC. If you’re willing to be frisky you could throw Oregon and Utah in the mix, too. The Ducks are interesting I’m just worried about a pivot to Mario Cristobal as head coach. The consistency of Utah is more appealing, plus no one else in the South division appears to be strong enough to come close to a challenge, except maybe Arizona’s Tate/Sumlin combo destroying defenses and their defense holding up just enough to get it done.

If they make it this would be Washington’s 2nd Pac-12 title game appearance in 3 years while it would be USC’s 3rd appearance in the past 4 years. These teams have yet to meet in the league title game.

By |2018-07-29T22:31:49+00:00July 29th, 2018|Football|43 Comments

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irishmann313juiceboxEric MurtaughUnderthrown ShoelaceOrlok Recent comment authors
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Russell Knox
Russell Knox

How does Peterson keep winning all of these games? I’ve never seen him with a top recruiting class, but he keeps winning. Is he system guy?

MikeyB
MikeyB

Partly because he plays terrible schedules and never actually beats really good teams. Since 2010, he’s only beaten 1 team that finished in the top 15 of the final AP Poll.

*Note: I actually think he’s a good coach, but his recent resume is paper-thin in terms of big wins. Of course, he’s only heading into his 4th season in a Power 5 conference, and that conference has been garbage all 3 seasons he’s been there, so he hasn’t had a ton of chances to play great teams. But still, it’s definitely a part of the reason why he’s been able to stack up the wins.

KG
KG

You’re correct. He didn’t have problems beating top 15 teams while at Boise State, and he didn’t do it with top recruiting classes there, either. He’s a good coach. At UW, he beat #14 Washington State and lost to #12 Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl last year (Only ranked teams they played–Rankings at time of game, per Wikipedia). In 2016, they beat #7 Stanford, #9 Colorado, #17 Utah, #23 Wazzu, and lost to #1 Alabama. 2015, they beat #17 USC and #20 Wazzu, and lost to #23 Boise State (fun with irony), #10 Stanford, and #20 Utah. 2014, his first year, they didn’t beat any ranked team, and lost to #16 Stanford, #9 Oregon, #14 ASU, #18 UCLA, and #17 Arizona. (Also, he’s heading into his 5th season, not 4th)

Part of the problem is that the Pac-12 hasn’t performed well, as you said. Wazzu was #14 when they played Washington in the Apple Cup last game of the season last year; Washington blew them out 41-14, then Michigan State destroyed them in a bowl game, and Wazzu finished unranked. So in the end, the only top 15 team UW played was Penn State, who they lost to in the Fiesta by a touchdown in a pretty good game. In 2016, Stanford went from 7th at the time they played to 18th in the final CFP poll, Colorado from 9th to 10th, Utah 17 to 19th, and Wazzu 23 to out of the final CFP poll.

Note that the only out of conference teams were their bowl/CFP opponents, who they lost to, supporting your assertion that he hasn’t had the chance to play many top level teams. That’s why this Auburn game is a big deal for UW. Of course, Petersen brought Boise down to Atlanta and burned the Bulldogs, but this game is huge for getting rid of the Pac12 can’t compete label. Of course, if UW wins, Auburn will likely go 7-5 or something just to continue the narrative.

KG
KG

Addendum: A quick look at his Boise tenure shows 5 wins against teams ranked #15 or higher, 3 losses. Interestingly, UGA was only ranked #22 at the time they played. I’m not going through every season to see where those teams finished, but it would appear that Boise under Petersen had significant success (5-3) against top level teams, given 7 chances in 8 seasons. Of those, Boise was ranked higher (though not necessarily a favorite, I’m not looking that up) in 3 of those games, going 2-1.

2006 BSU rank #8 Oklahoma #10 BSU win 43-42 OT, Only ranked team played. Interesting that BSU was the higher ranked team.
2007 BSU rank #19 Hawaii #15 loss 27-39. Conference game. Only ranked team played.
2008 BSU unranked Oregon #12 win 37-32, BSU #9 TCU #11 loss 16-17. One OOC game one bowl.
2009 BSU #16 Oregon #14 win 19-8, BSU #6 TCU #3 win 17-10. One OOC game one bowl.
2010 BSU #3 Va Tech #13 win 33-30 OOC game (lost to #19 Nev, beat #19 Utah in bowl game)
2011 No Top 15 teams played, beat #22 UGA OOC, lost to #24 TCU (Conf game–both in Mountain West)
2012 BSU #22 Michigan St #13 Loss 13-17
2013 No Top 15 teams played.

MikeyB
MikeyB

God those Boise bowl games were so much fun. It’s still incredible to me that he was doing that with a MWC school. Of course, those wins started the stupid narrative of “P5 schools don’t care about bowl games against small teams so they don’t really matter.” That annoys the hell out of me.

CardinalBaseball
CardinalBaseball

I feel like this USC team is the perfect level of competence for ND. They’re not totally incompetent therefore Helton can keep winning enough to keep his job and keep some big name recruits coming in but not so competent that ND has no chance.
And their recruiting rankings on the surface seem to be top 5 but They seem to recruit heavily towards skill 5 star talent, the talent on the lines is nowhere close to Georgia, OSU, or Clemson.

MikeyB
MikeyB

Kyle Wittingham has been the head coach at Utah for 13 years. That’s the 6th longest active streak in the country. He was a guy I thought was going to get a huge contract from a P5 team back when Utah was MWC, then a guy I thought was going to get run out of town pretty quickly after 2 straight terrible seasons when Utah transitioned to the Pac-12. And now he’s really just settled into a groove out there. Never a team you expect to compete for a National Title, but never a team you’d want to play if you’re trying to get to a National Title.

He’s only 58. I wonder how many years he’s going to be the coach out there. And I wonder how Utah fans feel about him. I’d have hard time imagining that they don’t like a guy who took them to some huge bowl wins, but I also never would have imagined that I would have gotten tired of Brian Kelly just a few years after he took us to a National Championship game.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Didn’t realize Stanford was so low in ‘crootin. Coming off just a 9-5 season too.

Wonder how the Tree will start, they have a pretty tough looking go of it….A 10-win San Diego State team from last year, USC, a cupcake, @Oregon, @ND in the first 5 games. They might be 3-2 or 2-3 by the first 5. (Let’s hope, anyways). I guess they would still be somewhat in the PAC mix if one loss is to Notre Dame but they’ll be a pretty uninspiring team if that’s the case.

Though, big picture, PAC is always important since in theory wins over SC+Stanford for ND essentially makes the Irish a potential playoff replacement for them if ND can go 11-1 and the eventual PAC champ is shaky. Getting to that 11-1 part is obviously tough enough though.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Stanford recruiting the last couple years has been super weird. They had the #14 ranked class in 2017, but it was only 14 signees (super top-heavy). Then only 15 in 2018, and only 8 commits for the upcoming class. Maybe they forgot how many people you can sign? That’d be great.

irish_bandit_10
irish_bandit_10

Is Tyrone Willingham back at Stanford?

KG
KG

As of 2012, he was an assistant women’s golf coach at Stanford, though it seems that is no longer the case.

Underthrown Shoelace
Underthrown Shoelace

Probably spent too much time on the football course and not enough time coaching golf.

Russell Knox
Russell Knox

😂

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

It is odd they’ve been selective by comparison to ND who has been trying to sign 20-25 per year lately (so it seems anyways) and then have natural attrition whittle it away to the 85 limit which has been no problem.

Maybe it’s just perception, but it doesn’t seem Stanford has as many off-field issues of late than ND. The Athletic had an interesting look at how Georgia and not Florida is becoming more of a focus an a more fruitful recruiting ground for the academic schools and it did kinda look like Stanford figured out a bit before ND to get more results in GA. I wonder if that has anything to do with it that they’re taking less numbers but better fits, whereas Notre Dame has just been trying to get more athletes and hope enough conform/mature and work out.

Something that I read that floored me is Coney (who has already graduated) is the only FL native under Kelly to earn a ND degree before transferring, going pro, getting kicked out (with Dex being close to be the second). It’s a small sample but the data looks pretty clear that Florida is a lot more miss than hit lately for the football program.

KG
KG

Well, nobody who gets a public school education in Florida does anything with their lives.

(Orange Park (FL) HS, c/o ’94)

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Ah, so that explains this: https://twitter.com/_floridaman

KG
KG

Indeed

juicebox
juicebox

They do have fewer off the field issues (basically the normal amount for a school). For 2 reasons that keep biting ND.

1. Stanford, along with most of the Ivies, has a reputation for getting in being the hardest part. Once you are in, they make sure you graduate, and look good doing it. This goes for athletes and non-athletes alike.

2. It’s college, no one (outside of the ND administration) cares if you smoke weed.

Football was a verb
Football was a verb

I feel like their recruiting has been down for years yet it doesn’t show on the field. Despite all their issues, I thought they looked better than us last year when we played.

nd09hls12
nd09hls12

Well, their aforementioned 2017 class is actually kind of awesome (3 composite 5-stars and another very, very high 4 star that is a top-40 recruit), it’s just very small.

juicebox
juicebox

I think Stanford tends to have a big number of 5th years, so the low numbers don’t hurt as much. But overall, Shaw is just a damn good coach, especially where player development is concerned.

Orlok
Orlok

I decided that I must stop working to share this urgently needed information with y’all.

@hooks –
Pete Sampson gave a talk about ND football (previewing this year) at the local Irish club, and afterwards, I asked him specifically about Stanford’s small classes and whether we were on the verge of witnessing a Stanford collapse. Obviously, this would be a huge help for ND.

He told me that sadly, they were nowhere near collapse. Their classes are small because most of their athletes stay five years. So even though they’ve had small classes, the slower turnover means they keep high rankings – see for example, last year:

https://247sports.com/Season/2017-Football/CollegeTeamTalentComposite

[2018 team rankings aren’t out as of this posting.]

By the way, for the people who run this site – Pete’s talk was 2 hour, then he stayed after for another hour answering (mostly my) questions; he is super generous and I never miss his talks. I have a couple pages of typed notes that I’ve been dying to share with you guys, but I haven’t known where to post them. Would you like me to send them to you? I didn’t want to do a massive comment dump but there’s some good stuff there that I’d love to share with the commentariat.

hooks orpik
hooks orpik

Interesting stuff thanks for sharing and hope to see more. That was sort of a factor I was clumsily getting to that Stanford (at least by feel) seems to have a bit less roster turnover and sort of goes for the quality factor, where as ND has been a bit quantity-driven with high numbers but more players either transferring, getting kicked off the program or otherwise shuffling through quicker.

Perhaps the observation isn’t even totally accurate, and it’s certainly relative being as ND gets quality kids and is one of the top ranked recruiting, and Stanford clearly gets enough quantity to run a big time program too, it’s just interesting to see how two fairly similar institutions have been approaching things (be it by choice or necessity).

KG
KG

Interesting. Hope to hear more–maybe you could write it up as a post they could publish?

I’m also interested to know how their different approach to athlete academics comes in to play. My understanding is that Stanford is super selective, more so than ND–almost to the point that football players have to have the academic resume to get into Stanford without them being football players. And yet, once in, they have “rocks for jocks” classes that take it easy on players. There was a whole big thing a few years back about Stanford having an internally-circulated description of which classes to take for easy As for athletes, etc. ND seems the opposite–student-athletes have to meet certain acceptance standards, but we don’t pretend they’d have gotten in without being FB players. But once in, they’ve got to meet all the same standards in the classroom as the regular kids (though they get a wealth of tutoring and other assistance). It would seem to me that our case would be more likely to result in kids staying 5 years, to spread the academics out so they can graduate. But even our guys who do graduate often do so in 3 1/2 years, whereas their guys are staying 5? How does that work out?

juicebox
juicebox

We don’t allow players to do a 5 year track. They have to take a normal class load, plus summer classes, which makes it almost difficult not to graduate in 3.5 years. All of our 5th years are in a graduate program.

KG
KG

I knew that, and yet somehow forgot it. That certainly explains why our kids don’t stay for 5. It’s almost like we intentionally make things difficult.

juicebox
juicebox

We really do. And totally unnecessarily.

I love our academic standards, and our no fake majors, but the 5 year thing makes noooo sense to me. Half the people I grew up with took at least 4.5 years to graduate college, and at much easier schools than ND.

KG
KG

It’s on the list along with the calc requirement, though I think we discussed that here (or the old site) and there had been changes to that.

irish_bandit_10
irish_bandit_10

Stanford does relax their admissions standards for athletes. I had a couple of high school friends/teammates get letters from Stanford Football that explicitly stated they needed a 26 on the ACT or 1200 on the SAT to get in. I think anyone familiar with Stanford knows that a 26 or a 1200 isn’t getting a regular student anywhere close to that school. For reference, my 4.5 GPA and mid-30’s ACT earned me a flat rejection from Stanford.

I do think we see a bigger disparity once students are on campus because of ND’s insistence on keeping kids on track to graduate within 3.5 years and making sure all 5th years are in graduate programs. And the whole weed/parietals thing, of course.
Jesus enjoyed going to weddings and partying. Shoot, he thought wine was better than water. Let the kids have a little fun. Maybe loosening up a little on campus would prevent them from traveling down to Fulton County for stupid stuff.

irishmann313
irishmann313

Khalil Tate???