Mirror or Mirage?



By Coug-A-Sutra

Hello Followers.  Hope you’re getting ready for a fantastic weekend—the last one in July if you can believe it!!!!

So, Pac-12 Media Week is now over.  And in true Blue fashion, the media went chalk with their picks, going with Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Oregon State, WSU, and CAL in the North.  Of course, their picks stood in stark contrast to my pre-camp view of the Pac-12 North.   In case you missed last week’s post, I went the following pecking order:  (1) Oregon State (2) Oregon (3) Washington State (4) Stanford (5) Washington (6) CAL

Although a bit unconventional (OSU was not picked by anyone, anywhere) the rationale behind my picks was pretty straight forward.  First, I picked OSU because I think that there’s a very good chance that the North winner is going to have two conference losses.   So, as I went through the schedule, I found a very plausible scenario whereby Oregon State could lose to both SC and Stanford on the road and still win the North provided that Oregon loses to UCLA in Los Angeles.

Mirror or Mirage?

Meanwhile, I picked Stanford to take a bit of a nosedive because of the loss of senior leadership on defense and because of the sheer brutality of their schedule.   In short, I have them losing to what should be a very healthy SC team in week 2, and I also have them losing to UCLA and Oregon.  In addition, I think that there’s a decent chance of that the Trees could lose to WSU on a short week (which follows a cross country trip to Notre Dame); and I also think they could be vulnerable to Oregon State and Arizona State.   In my math, that’s four conference losses.

The big question, at least in my mind, is how the Cougs can find the 5 W’s needed to reach the 5-4 conference mark that I predicted for them pre-camp.   And that question frames this particular post.   Because when you look at last year, it’s tempting to question whether last year’s four conference wins reflected the potential of this group moving forward (i.e., the “mirror”) or if they represented a constellation of “flukes” (i.e., the mirage) that will not be replicated this year.  Obviously, I think that last year’s upsets represented a harbinger of things to come.  But to evaluate that view, let’s take a quick look back at last year’s key conference games.


Followers, because we are in the second year of the current schedule rotation, we play the same conference slate as last year (with a different home-road split).  So, the easiest road to five conference wins for us is to beat the same teams as last year and then beat Washington at home.   Seems easy enough, right?  Well, let’s see.

Mirror or Mirage?

WSU 10  USC 7

As we all noted at the time, our win against SC last year in LA might have been the defining moment of Cougar football this decade.  On the plus side, this wasn’t some sort of 58-35 fluke job where SC came out flat, we caught an early lead, and then ran all over them.  This was actually a game where SC came out juiced on defense and we found enough at the end of the game to pull it out.

Of course, the downside of this game was the fact that Kiffin had already lost control of the team, their quarterback situation was a total mess, and they had yet to discover the running game that would later allow them to become a 10 win team for the 8000th time in their program’s history.  What’s more, if Lane had just opted to play it a little safer at the end of the first half, we probably would have lost that game 7-3.

Even so, when you look at SC’s trip to Pullman on November 1, there has to be room for optimism.  To be sure, SC is once again loaded at the skill positions and has NFL guys all over that defense. At the same time, the Trojans remain razor thin across the lines, are only so-so at Quarterback, and by November, depth could be a real factor for them.  Plus, if our O-line matures sufficiently to protect Connor, our depth at WR figures to make the Cougs a very, very dangerous fourth quarter team.  So, while this is not one to stick in the W column, it also is a game that doesn’t fit neatly as an “L” either.

Mirror or Mirage?

WSU 44 CAL 22

This game was 35-22 WSU headed into the Fourth Quarter and my Twitter feed was abuzz with tweets from Coug fans that were SURE we were going to lose that game.   And the reason for that pessimism was understandable:  Jared Goff had thrown for 400 yards through three quarters and the Bears had turned the ball over four times but were still somehow in striking distance.

Now, looking forward to this year, the reason to be nervous about this game is that CAL figures to be poised to chuck the ball all over the yard against us again this year.  And so, if we come back from Utah too high (or too low), this one could turn into a horror show.    At the same time, it’s also important to remember that CAL started to quit on their season AFTER this game.  So, when consider that this game will be in Pullman and that both teams will be improved from last year, well…This one feels like it belongs in the “will do” column.

Mirror or Mirage?

WSU 24  Arizona 17

This one is a toughie to gauge.  If you recall, I picked us to win this game last year.  And the reason I picked us was simple:  We had done pretty well against teams that weren’t well balanced offensively—especially teams that had a difficult time throwing the football (i.e., Auburn and SC).  On top of that, Arizona’s 3-3-5 allowed us to be able to do something that we hadn’t been very good at in the previous month: RUN the football.  So, although the final score wound up being lower than I expected, the result was not surprising.

At the same time, it’s almost impossible to disregard the fact that, for the Mildcats, their game against us was a major trap game.  I mean, they had JUST lost a nail-biter to UCLA the previous week and had Oregon coming in week following WSU.  And, although ASU killed the Cats a few weeks later, the scores following the WSU game were noteworthy:  They killed Oregon 42-16 and then manhandled Boston College 42-19 in the IDontCare V300 bowl in Florida.

In other words, the Mildcats showed a lot on both sides of the ball in the last few weeks of the season. And while I think the loss of Carey is much more significant than what the media talked about this week, you can be that their date @WSU is circled BIG TIME on their calendar.    When you factor in the depth they have at WR and their O-line, there’s good reason to be very, very concerned about this game.

Mirror or Mirage?
RG5 If you Need Him

WSU 49 Utah 37

This game is the one that I think we all need to look at the most closely and critically.  Because, somewhat strangely enough, that was the last game we won.

Now, there are several things about this game that are worrisome for me moving forward.  First and foremost, we had a 21-0 lead with 5:56 remaining in the first quarter.  Mind you, sometimes those types of early leads throw off the tempo of a game.  But the fact remains that from that point forward, Utah outscored us 37-28  AT HOME.

Second:  Aaron Shultz was the worst quarterback we faced in conference by a wide margin last year and he still managed to throw for 350 yards in that game.  Third:  Dres Anderson absolutely lit us up for 126 yards receiving even though we doubled him up most of the game—and he’s only gonna be better this year—especially at home.  Fourth: Halliday threw for 488 yards, 4 TDs, and NO INTERCEPTIONS, we had two pick sixes, and we still were in danger of losing that one late.

Moreover, when we look forward to this year’s game, barring (re) injury, Travis Wilson figures to be under center for the Utes—a guy who is the EXACT type of dual threat quarterback that has lit us up in the past.  Also, last time I checked, Rice-Eccles is a nightmare place to play.  I mean, look at the scores from last year when Divisional front-runners played at Utah:

UCLA 34  Utah 27

Utah 27  Stanford 21

Arizona State 20 Utah 19

Mirror or Mirage?


The good news is that Utah was completely unable to match-up with our receivers last year.  They also lost a LOT on defense, lost their TE Murphy who ate us alive in the second half of last year’s game, and were unable to keep up with Oregon State last year in a similar early-season barn-burner.   In short, if this isn’t THE swing game of the year for us, I don’t know what a swing game is.

Mirror or Mirage?

Washington 27  WSU 17

Not going to belabor this much, but here’s the deal.  That game was a game that we “woulda, coulda, shoulda” in Husky stadium when the Dawgs had Price, Sankey, and Zeus.  So, while I do think that Washington’s talent along the lines could make them a surprise story in 2014, this is a game that I think will be ours.  Simply put, I do not see this year’s senior class losing that game in Martin. I just don’t.

So, in sum, when you look at the Cougs 2014 conference schedule, there are four virtual “must wins”: Utah, Arizona, CAL, and Washington.  From there, our chance of having a breakthrough season depends finding a W or two from the likes of Stanford, Oregon State, and USC.  Get one of those and we’ll find ourselves flirting with a top 25 spot. Win two and we’ll be in divisional contention into the second week of November.  And how fricking cool would that be?

That’s the time I have for today.

All for now. Go Cougs.

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