By: Andrew Haubner
Each week during the NFL season, UnafraidShow.com will take you through the four Pac-12 teams/players that are trending up, as well as the ones that are headed for a crash. Let’s get to it:
Make sure to check out this week’s Pac-12 Apostles Podcast, or just click play on the Spotify link below while you read the article below.
Four Up: Pac-12 Teams and Players Trending Up
1) Duck Tales
For two quarters, we saw the Oregon we’d been waiting to see. The Ducks completely buried UCLA after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter and wound up winning 34-31. Those with high expectations for them would point to allowing the Bruins back into this game. But at this point with Oregon, you take the good with the bad. They’re 6-1, the No. 7 team in the country and still in the drivers seat to win a Pac-12 title and maybe even make a push for the College Football Playoff. Travis Dye has solidified himself as a lead back while Kayvon Thibodeaux had his national coming out party as the best edge rusher in college football. I only hope he sent Dorian Thompson-Robinson a ‘get well soon’ card. I wouldn’t want him to pay the medical bills though. That one is on Chip Kelly.
2) Those Dam Beavers
I should’ve known that putting the Beavers down as a cooling off team last week would lead to me eating some crow. But here it is. My crow was grilled, seasoned with salt, pepper and a little oregano. Kidding aside, Oregon State is just flat out good. The Washington State loss is still a bit inexplicable but Utah is a solid program that was on the upswing. To beat yet another team that has given Jonathan Smith and co. fits since they arrived in Corvallis is another notch in the rebuild belt. BJ Baylor and this OSU rushing attack is the best in the conference and there really isn’t anyone that has shown any kind of proficiency in stopping them yet. So if that’s the case, you gotta ride the hot hand. They have a tough back end to the schedule and this California game screams “BAD VIBES!” but if they can manage to get to the Oregon game with an 8-3 record then they have a shot to really cause some chaos. Don’t count them out. As good as crow can be to eat, too much of it can give you mud butt.
3) Sun Devil Surge
Arizona State, like a couple other teams in the conference, is such a “what if?” Get by BYU early in the year and you’re talking about a team that would be a one-loss squad with an insanely easy end of schedule. Aside from Oregon State, I fully expect the Sun Devils to win out. You just hope that when those teams meet on November 20th, they’re two-loss teams that are hopefully ranked in the Top 25. ASU has the weapons offensively, they’ve got the best quarterback in the conference (best is generous I know but Jayden Daniels is probably the most consistent), and a defense that has shown some good flashes. You never like going into a bye week on a loss but that could have the same galvanizing effect as it did for Oregon State. If there’s anything to worry about, it’s the coaching attrition. This is the time of year where the grind starts to wear on folks. And I’m sure in Tempe there has been a lot of effort put towards filling the coaching gaps in the wide receiver, tight end and defensive back room. Eventually that can come back around on you. For the sake of the Pac-12’s competitive national profile, I’m hoping it won’t matter.
4) A Cal Progression to the Mean
Yeah, I know last week we openly pondered if Justin Wilcox was in a bit of a hot seat from a perception standpoint. Had they lost to Colorado, he would’ve been. Instead, Cal turned in one of their better games this season. I won’t buy into the idea that the Golden Bears are going to turn this into a run that starts with a home tilt against Oregon State. But it could mean the Golden Bears may put a scare into the Beavers, Stanford and UCLA. Four of their five losses were in one possession games. Three of those losses came on one of (or the*) final plays of the game. It’s just been really bad execution, bad redzone playcalling and a little bit of bad luck. You have to assume that a progression to the mean is coming for them. Now that doesn’t mean running the table but it could means wins against Arizona and USC with a pick off of one of the aforementioned three teams. Finishing 5-7 would be frustrating given what we thought they would be this year. But college football’s margins are razor thin and it seems Justin Wilcox and his staff have learned that the hard way this year.
No team in the country has turned it on quite like Utah. Okay, maybe Washington State. But it’s Oregon, through good and bad, that continues to be the best team in the conference when they want to be. That second and third quarter against UCLA was playoff caliber and I think it’s a fair argument that if Kris Hutson doesn’t have that crucial fumble that they probably go on to blow the Bruins out the rest of the way. Are there some things that are easy to dislike or be worried about? Absolutely. But Anthony Brown turning in his most efficient performance as a Duck should terrify folks because it feels like he is starting to put it together. In fact, up until the Hutson fumble, Brown was 25/32 for over 250 yards and set up the short yardage scores from Travis Dye. It got a little squirrely late but he puts them in positions to win and doesn’t really make mistakes. The last two games on their schedule are the scariest (@ Utah, vs. Oregon State) but they should be 9-1 heading into those games. Trust the Ducks, even if you hate them. It’s better to have someone in Playoff contention heading into November than not have one at all.
Four Down: Pac-12 Teams and Players Trending Down
1) Breaking the Buffaloes
Buffs**t (noun): A word commonly used by Colorado football fans as a catch-all term for the myriad ways in which the program has messed up, be it on or off the field, in the last two decades.
Used in a sentence: 13 yards of total offense in the second half against a one win Cal team with the reigning conference player of the year as your running back is classic Buffs**t.
In fact, most of this season has been peak Buffs**t. Colorado is nearing the lows of the Jon Embree years, a feat previously thought impossible. Based on the comments of wide receiver Brendon Rice, the issues go deeper than scheme. To hear him tell it, there’s an accountability issue in the program which is essentially saying there’s rot that requires cutting out the abscess completely. Maybe getting rid of offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue will help. Or if you’re of a more cynical mindset, it is the first of what may be many scapegoats to distract from where the root of the problem actually lies. You can see where I’m going with this.
2) When the Chips are Down…
The contingent of folks in UCLA land that are done with the Chip Kelly experiment got a nice feather in their cap this weekend. The Bruins gave away a 14-0 first quarter lead and saw themselves outscored 34-3 in the next two quarters before ultimately losing 34-31 at home to Oregon. I don’t think I’m there yet but one can understand the frustration after hearing for the last three years that everything was building to this season. One could be forgiven for wondering just how much of this years’ results will go back to that Fresno State loss at home. 6-2 does look a lot better than 5-3, after all. But that game is done and dusted and UCLA must look ahead. The last three games of the schedule (Colorado, USC, Cal) appear to be a cakewalk but this weekend’s matchup against Utah is a big one for Chip to prove a proof of concept. After all, 9-3 will play a whole lot better than 8-4.
3) Trojans in Trouble
With each passing game, we’re starting to see that USC is basically that one scene from HBO’s Chernobyl. While the nuclear reactor is burning, the head of the power plant declared the radiation measurement at 3.6 roentgen. “Not great, not terrible.” The reality of course was that the doximeters maxed out at 3.6 so the real values were way off the charts. By the time everyone realized it was a nuclear meltdown, so much radiation had entered the atmosphere that the town of Pripyat was evacuated and abandoned. Every week the oddsmakers are thinking in terms of 3.6 roentgen and we all get hoodwinked into not realizing USC is a bunch of Soviet generals in a boardroom wondering how they can spin a positive narrative while their plant workers skin is falling off the bone like Texas brisket.
We can say whatever we want about how attractive the USC job is. But whichever coach comes to Los Angeles next will have a much bigger task than originally anticipated. There’s a massive cultural overhaul needed, a bunch of different holes on the lines to plug and generally a belief that is clearly not there with the program anymore. Drake London seems to be the only good who can cash the checks his mouth is writing. He’s got the fight, the swagger and skill to back that up. And man, it’s impossible to not feel for him. The wide receiver is having a Biletnikoff winning/Heisman contending season and no one sees it because USC stinks. And that stinks even more. At least they have Arizona next. Talk about a get-right game.
4) Filet-O-Fisch Pt. 2
Last week on Finding Nemo, the young clownfish had just been flushed down the toilet and had waded through the sewage treatment plant on his way to the sea. Well, we now find our protagonist Fisch being stuck in the net of a fishing trawler headed up to the surface gasping for air. Jedd Fisch has plenty of excuses for this year. The talent isn’t there, he’s down to taking a wide receiver who played quarterback in high school to be taking legitimate power 5 practice reps. But those all disappear when you see the personnel mistakes, the coaching issues, clock management and playcalling. Jedd Fisch can control those things. 12 men on the field on a pivotal 3rd and 10 that you managed to stop? That’s on the coaching staff. The story of our young clownfish suggests some brighter things are on the way for Arizona. But saying “just keep swimming” isn’t enough. Jedd Fisch has got to be the guy to show them how to paddle in the right direction.
The only reason Washington would be cooling off instead “completely in the freezer with the package of frozen veggies you said you’d totally stir fry this week” is because I thought their offense was showing signs of genuine improvement even if the wins weren’t there. They put up lines of 24, 24 and 17 before the Arizona game and I know that’s not much of a consolation but they at least looked competitive again. Well, throw that out the window. If it wasn’t for the Wildcats being, well, the Wildcats this year Jimmy Lake may have gotten tarmac’d on the airport of Tucson International. Like Colorado, I think everyone knows what needs to happen. If Jimmy Lake is gonna be given time then he has to make a change at offensive coordinator at the end of the season. But until we see that, we’re resigned to looking at maybe one of the ugliest offenses in the conference, let alone the country.