Is 2014 A Championship Year?

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

Hello Followers.  Hope you’re having a great Pre-Superbowl week.

As for me, well, I’m gearing up for what promises to be a very, very, VERY long spring semester.

But before my world gets completely over-run with crackademics….

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

A few quick thoughts and takes about the 2014 Washington State Cougars…..

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Over the past few weeks, there have been a lot of interesting developments in the Pac-12.   Oregon responded to the retirement of Nick Aliotti by hiring its new Defensive Coordinator from within.  Oregon State lost their All-American WR Brandin Cooks to the NFL draft, as well as their blistering pass-rushing Defensive End, Scott Crichton. 

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

A few weeks earlier, Cal demoted their Defensive Coordinator—in spite of a guaranteed high salary—and lost their only defensive standouts to the NFL draft.  Then, last week, Vanderbilt hired Derek Mason away from Stanford. 

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

As if losing Mason wasn’t bad enough for the Trees, word came out yesterday that Mr. All-everything (can you tell I’m a fan?) is taking with him a few members of Stanford’s defensive staff.  

And then there’s the University of Washington.  To be sure, the Huskies return one of the most experienced and explosive defensive units in the conference, led by sure-fire All-American candidate Shaq Thompson.

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

At the same time, they are also losing one of the best (in my view) defensive coordinators in the country.  And while it’s difficult to imagine that the Dawgs will take a step back next year on the defensive side of the ball, it is far from a guarantee that they’ll be taking a step forward, especially with given the loss of Prince, Sankey, and ASJ.


And then we have our Cougs.  To be sure, our back four has ????? written all over it.

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

A Ginger Riddler!!!!!!!!!

In addition, our overall size and speed at linebacker (or lackthereof) remains a big question for our defense, although some of those questions might be eased by the emergence of Ivan McLennan and/or the return of Chester Sua.

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

But in light of all of the coaching and player turnover on Defense in the North Division (as well as the Conference overall), one has to wonder:  IF the offensive line improves during the off-season, might the Cougs have enough to contend for the Pac-12 North this year?


While I’m sure that it’s tempting to laugh me off the blog-o-sphere for even asking such a question, a few important tidbits to keep in mind. Namely, if you look back at our two championship seasons, a few similarities are evident betwen the past and this year's team.  First, each of those teams returned an experienced quarterback that was “on the brink” of achieving a National Reputation (e.g., Gesser and Leaf).  Both were not only known for their talent, but also for their overt distaste for losing.   Don’t know about you all, but I’m not sure that there is a more perfect blend of Leaf and Gesser than Mr. Connor Halliday.

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

Second, at the risk of experiencing the wrath of Khan…

Both championship teams won their titles by beating the conference co-champion in the home conference opener for the Cougs:  The ’97 team beat co-champion UCLA in the season opener, and the 2002 team beat USC in the conference home opener for the Cougs. 

And this year?  Well, the Cougs are scheduled to open the conference slate at home against the Oregon Ducks—a team that is ranked in the top 3 in nearly all of the “way too early” pre-season polls and the bonafide favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2014.  So, in the event that we nip the Ducks in a 55-54 2 OT Classic, the Ducks, just like the LA schools of the past, will have to fight that lost head-to-head tie breaker the rest of the way.  And given the difficutly of the Pac-12, that's almost like having a three game lead right off the bat..

Mind you, while I am NOT suggesting that we will beat Oregon this year, the fact of the matter is that this year represents the first in which I look at our offense and I look at our front four on Defense and say, “You know, at home, it COULD happen.”  And while Mariotta’s speed and overall talent could or should make this one as ugly as any of the prior slaughter fests, the fact of the matter is that (a) Oregon showed themselves to be beatable last year; (b) After playing Michigan State two weeks earlier, the Ducks health (physical) and mental health (will they throw in the towel if knocked out of playoff contention in Week 2?) may be questionable for that game ; and (c) Four or five of our front seven will be playing the Ducks for the second or third time in their career.  In other words, if this group matures the way it should, we might expect us to close the gap on them a little in the off-season.

Is 2014 A Championship Year?

Like you thought THIS would happen in 2013

Anyhow, beyond the Ducks, we saw over this past season that a 7-2 conference mark puts a team in a good position to win the Division, depending on the distribution of wins and losses.  We also saw that 6-3 makes you a contender in November, and also affords the exposure of a national ranking and the like.

So, as we all look forward to 2014, the recipe for a great or spectacular season is clear:  Go 3-2 in Division and 3-1 out of it.  Do one better, and the 2014 Washington State Cougars may rival the excitement provided this month by the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks.  And while I certainly am not expecting a title, I will allow myself to have hope that we will contend this year.   And so should you.

My Way Too Early Pac-12 2014 North Division Predictions

1.       Oregon—Michigan State game is key to conference AND season fortunes. 

2.       Stanford—If they can beat UW at the end of September, another great season feels likely.  Lose that game, and the Trees could slide WAY down in the Division pecking order (if only for one year).

3.       Washington State—Defense might win championships, but if the offense explodes, it may be difficult for teams to keep up—especially if the Cougs can find a pass rush and if the green DB’s play fast.

4.       Oregon State—Mannion is poised to shatter conference career passing records.  If they can replace Chricton AND if Ward surpasses Storm Woods at the RB spot (I think he's much better), the Beavs can challenge for the North. Put differently, if you told me now that the Beavs won the North in 2014, I wouldn’t be totally shocked.

5.       Washington—Hard to bet on the Dawgs given the loss of two All-Americans on offense and the best young defensive coordinator in the Country.  The cupcake non-conference schedule will make 8-9 wins a probability, but getting beyond 5-4 in league seems too tall an order for a staff in its first year.

6.       CAL—Dykes’ team will be poised to make noise in 2015—and they better—because his seat will be the hottest in the country following the 2014 season.

All for now.  Go Cougs. 

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