Chalk No More

Chalk No More

By Coug-A-Sutra

Hello Followers! Hope you’re doing great.

As for me, well, I’m cold chilling on vacation somewhere in the mountains of the Southeast.  But since its mid-July, it’s time once again to release our annual Media Day Ballot to the Pac-12 Conference.   So without further ado, let’s get down to it!


Followers, in the past, when it came to putting together a pre-season ranking for the conference it was pretty much all chalk at the top:  Oregon and Stanford were the clear top dogs, and with USC on probation, the south race was often a toss-up between Arizona State and UCLA.

But this year, the tides seem to be turning a bit.  Stanford, after a meteoric rise to the top of the College Football landscape, lost the bulk of their incredible defense to graduation or NFL defection.  And Oregon, while still very formidable, showed that they were mortal in dropping conference games to Stanford and Arizona.

Moreover, in addition to finishing the 2013 campaigns with 7-2 marks in conference, both Oregon and Stanford enter the 2014 season with new Defensive Coordinators.  Meanwhile, perennial 3rd Place contender Washington has a brand new coaching staff, a new quarterback, and a new secondary.

Chalk No More

And then we have the South—the Division that has yet to win a Pac-12 football championship.  But this year, UCLA enters the 2014 campaign as a legit candidate for the first ever College Football playoff, while USC also looms as a darkhorse for a berth in the Final Four.  And then, we have the Arizona schools that have a slew of question marks but also return enough talent to make a run in 2014.

Chalk No More

In short, I expect this season to be wild.  In fact, if I had to wager, I would think that 7 of the conference’s 12 teams will be “in” their division races entering the first week of November.  It’s going to be a really fun and provocative season!

So, with that all in mind, here the four key issues-as-questions which will I believe will help define the 2014 Conference race(s).

How will Stanford and USC start the season?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Stanford and SC will enter the 2014 season as conference/divisional front-runners.  At the same time, both programs enter the season in transition—Stanford due to graduation and the loss of Mason, and SC due to the hiring of Sark and the best defensive coordinator in the country, Justin Wilcox.

Chalk No More

While both teams have legit shots at the Nation’s top 10 (and maybe even top 5), both teams have schedules that should make even their own die-hards wince.  To compound matters, the two teams play each other in week 2—with the winner establishing themselves in the Nation’s top 10, while the other will fall behind the conference 8-Ball just two weeks into the season.   What’s more, both Stanford and SC have tough week 4 match-ups:  Stanford has to travel up to Seattle while SC plays a very dangerous Oregon State team in Los Angeles (after an East Coast trip to Boston College no less).   So, there’s a chance for one or both teams to enter October on shaky ground.  And if either one of those two teams comes out of that stretch banged up or saddled with a couple of losses, then the door opens for one the upstarts (e.g., the Arizona schools, the Washington Schools, and Oregon State) to crash one of the top spots in their divisions.

Can Oregon top Michigan State in Week 2?

As we saw last year, Oregon, though extremely talented and dangerous, seems to have adopted a bit of Alabama-itis.   Meaning:  If they don’t make the National Title game (or playoff), their season feels like a bit of a failure.  And while the national playoff makes it easier to survive an early season loss, one has to think that a home loss to a Big Ten school would be a crushing blow to Oregon’s title chances in 2014.

Chalk No More

So, while I don’t think that losing to Michigan State would enable a team like the Cougs to beat the Ducks, I do wonder whether an early home loss might cause Oregon to lose their edge just enough to make things really interesting in November.  We’ll see.

How many Tomato Cans will be opened in the Pac-12 in 2014?

As we’ve seen in past years, whenever there are a bunch of ranked teams on top of the conference, it means that the bottom of the conference is very, very soggy.  And whenever a team has 2 or fewer conference wins, we call that team a “Tomato Can.” Last year, California and Colorado were the Tomato Cans of the conference. The year before that, it was Colorado, WSU, and CAL.   In order for the conference to have a legit shot at a berth in the first National playoff, there will have to be 3 tomato cans in the Conference.  And I think there will be.

Which teams will stay in transition land in 2014?

Every year it seems like there are a few teams who could make a giant step forward who fail to get past that 5 win mark in conference.  For the past several years, that team has been Washington.  This year Arizona State, Arizona, Washington, Washington State, and Oregon State all have teams that could reach 6 conference wins.

Chalk No More

If one or two do, it means that one top team in each division has to take a bit of a nose dive.  As noted above, I think the two teams most likely to take a step back are Stanford and USC.

Now, on to the pre-season Media Ballot:

Pac-12 South:

Chalk No More

  1. UCLA (8-1).  Lots of talent back on both sides of the ball coupled with a legit Heisman guy who will help the Bruins stave off the Ducks in October.  I think they’ll make the playoff.
  2. USC (7-2).  The biggest question facing the Trojans pertains to their health as the season progresses because they still lack depth.  I expect them to start strong but a stagger just a bit at the end.  But a 10 win season will be a nice start to the Sark era at USC.
  3. Arizona State (5-4).  Lots of offense.  Lots of offense.  Lots of offense.  Their game against SC will be KEY to both teams’ seasons.
  4. Arizona (4-5). This team is DANGEROUS.  I just have a hard time finding a lot of wins on the schedule with their question mark at QB plus no Carey to shoulder the burden.
  5. Colorado (2-7).  Here’s tomato can #1.  Still a year away and CU’s schedule isn’t very kind.  That said, watch their game against UW in Boulder very closely.  It’s the type of game that up and comers typically win in Year 2 or 3 of a rebuild….And Mike Mac is a helluva coach.
  6. Utah (0-9).   Here’s tomato can #2.  I actually think the Utes could make a run at a bowl this year.  The key for them is their early conference game at home against WSU.   Like us, that’s a game that they absolutely MUST win.  Unfortunately for them, I don’t think that they have enough in the back 7 to keep up in that game.  And if they don’t, methinks that they might slowly quit on Whittingham the rest of the way.   In fact, put Kyle in the Tub right now.

Pac-12 North

Chalk No More
The Division Title is That Way
  1. Oregon State (7-2).   A few years ago, I picked Utah to win the South. And they responded by finishing second to last in the Division.  And while Oregon State has warts, I think that this is their year:  I think they re-found the running game that led them to the 2012-13 Alamo bowl in the season’s final two games, and I think that Mannion is a legit Heisman candidate in 2014.  Plus, they should have beaten Oregon last year in Eugene.  So, while the Beavs have come up empty in two other championship-laden Civil Wars, this one feels different.   It’s their year to beat the Ducks and they’ll take the Division when they do.
  2. Oregon (7-2).   I think the Ducks are going to lose three very close games this year to  Michigan State, UCLA, and Oregon State.  That said, since our tilt with them has the potential to be a site for College GameDay, I’m rooting for the Ducks big time in Week 2.  But until such time that they show they can win just throwing the ball…………….
  3. Washington State (5-4).  This is a razor thin call for me and probably a homer pick.  My thought here:  We’re going to have just enough to outlast Utah in a 48-45 type game.  And I also think that we’re going to nip Stanford on the road following their game against Notre Dame (at Notre Dame) on a short week.  That said, the margin for error is VERY thin for this group.  We could VERY easily finish 3-6, making a 3-0 start a necessity.
  4. Stanford (5-4).   Head-to-head tie-breaker goes to WSU here and while I think that it’s very possible for Stanford to go 7-2 in conference once again, the schedule feels too fricking daunting given their losses on defense.   Of course, I felt the same way last year.   But if Shaw leads this team to another 10+ win season, he will solidify himself as the second best coach in the country behind Nick Saban.  He’s top 5 as-is.
  5. Washington (3-6).   It’s very easy for me to imagine the Huskies and Cougs swapping spots here. And If Stanford falls, it wouldn’t surprise me if Washington won 6 or 7 games in conference—their depth on the offensive and defensive lines gives them enough to contend.   That said, I just don’t like their chances in any the games they’re playing this year against teams of similar caliber, in part, because I think the Dawgs have too many questions at Quarterback.  So,  I see them losing to Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, and Washington State plus either Arizona or Colorado (which again is a game that I think they should fear).  That said, I expect the Dawgs to contend for the conference big time in 2015—if they don’t put it all together this year.
  6. CAL (1-9).  And here’s tomato can #3.  I think CAL has enough to beat Colorado at home this year.  I also think they have enough to beat us if we don’t come ready to play.  In fact, if we stumble at Utah, their game against us figures to be a fricking nightmare to watch.   That said, I think that Sonny Dykes will prove to be one of the worst coaching hires EVER in the conference.  Too bad, cuz I like CAL so much. (NOT!)

Okay, followers.  That’s all the time I have for today.  I’ll be back following Media Day with a few additional thoughts….Training camp is less than 20 days away!

All for now.  Go Cougs.

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