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) Thicc Moon Rising
Yes, it was another banner weekend for Cameron Rising and the #Thiccos. Cam Rising wasn’t particularly sharp in Utah’s 52-7 win over Stanford but then again he really didn’t need to be. The Utes and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig have clearly found their groove offensively. Tavion Thomas’ ball control issues from earlier in the year have largely subsided, TJ Pledger has become a nice change of pace piece and the offensive line is cohesive and physical. Kyle Whittingham may lay awake at night wondering why Charlie Brewer had to have interest in Salt Lake City but he’ll be rocked to sleep knowing his team is in the drivers’ seat to win the Pac-12 South
2) Buffs Are Back?
I’m tempted to put Colorado in both the ‘up’ and ‘down’ categories. They’re up because of the obvious: they took down an Oregon State team that has occupied the top third of the league all season. The offense looks sharp, Brendon Lewis looks confident and the offensive line has an energy they lacked the first half of the season. Word around the program is that it really did start and stop with now-fired offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue. But that’s why I feel compelled to put Colorado down too. It’s clear former Alabama lineman and staffer turned interim OL coach Willie Vlachos knows his stuff. So why was he not in this position in the first place? Crazy as it sounds, Colorado is on a run that could lead to a bowl berth if all the chips fall into place.
3) Ducks Flying Together
Whatever you want to say about the Ducks in regards to dominant performances, they just keep winning. And in a time (and season) where top teams are being picked off left and right that has to matter for something. Oregon handled Washington in some of the worst weather we’ll probably see in the Pac-12 this season and would’ve added to a 10 point margin of victory if not for some clock mismanagement on the final play. But either way, Mario Cristobal’s hatred of all things Washington remains as pure as untouched snow and that is what makes the sport so great. Now comes the worst vibe matchup in existence: Washington State in a Pac-12 After Dark timeslot. What’s worse? The walls are closing in for Oregon to make a statement win.
4) Finding Fisch!
At last, the fishing net hauling fish and poor Nemo to the surface finally broke. To a raucous chorus of ‘just keep swimming’ Arizona managed to snap their 20 game losing streak and finally provide the return on investment Jedd Fisch has promised all season. Regardless of how they finish this year, 1-11 will be a forgotten rebuilding year. 0-12 is something that people keep with them forever. The importance of this one win can’t be understated. Will it lead to Fisch and friends returning to the beautiful coral reef while the dulcet tones of Bobby Darin play over the credits? That remains to be seen. But to win a game, even one with something of an asterix on it (we’ll get to that in a minute), is vital to the long term wellbeing of the Arizona program.
How about Brendon Lewis? I’m not sure what exactly changed. The Colorado coaching staff had very clearly simplified the offense for him in previous weeks but that didn’t seem to matter much for the freshman QB. It appears, given the last two weeks, that it all comes down to confidence in your offensive line protecting you. With time to throw and what seems to be more encouragement to use his feet to get away from pressure, Lewis looks the part of a sharp young QB with a tantalizing ceiling. Under the radar, he’s put together a conference season befitting a top half QB: 78/127 (61.4%), 940 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT. That’s progress.
Four Down: Pac-12 Teams and Players Trending Down
1) Lake’s Mistakes
Story time! During the pandemic (summer of 2020) I was at a combine for high school recruits in the pacific northwest. The topic of Jimmy Lake came up in discussion with a couple folks prominent in the recruiting scene and one in particular mentioned that he didn’t see it with the new Washington coach. This person mentioned to me that Lake’s affect was already starting to wear on people in the building and outside of it. While I was skeptical, this person was adamant that it wasn’t going to work out. Turns out, that person knew their stuff. This may be the end of the Jimmy Lake era at Washington. From a surrender punt turned safety in a rivalry game to hitting one of his own players, to that player appearing to have such little respect for his coach that he immediately turns his back on him, it’s been a no good very back week. Even with John Donovan out, I’m not sure how you salvage it. The damage has been done to the brand and recruiting and Lake’s affect is appearing to wear on those outside his building now as well.
2) Time’s Up for Tibs
Now to the other firing this week: Oregon State defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar. Listen, I liked Tibs as a person. Personable and forthcoming in interviews, he never sugarcoated things and was always respectful of us in the press. But this is a results based industry and after four years the results just weren’t there. And I want to stress, it isn’t just on Tibs. Oregon State’s inability to recruit or even develop higher tier interior defensive linemen and edge rushers they didn’t inherit has been an issue since day one. Trent Bray takes over and while he’s done a good job with his linebackers and Blue Adams has done great work with the secondary, I don’t think it’s enough when the problems lie up front. The next DC needs to be a teacher and a recruiter. Maybe one who has some OSU ties. Keith Heyward on line one, anybody?
3) Cal’s City Clash
Heyward may want to get out of Berkeley, given the situation. And good God, what a mess. I’ll preface this upfront: as a vaccinated individual, I don’t necessarily believe asymptomatic and vaccinated people need to be CoVid tested and held out of games. But here’s the rub: I’m not the head coach of a power 5 football program. Whatever your thoughts are on the City of Berkeley or Cal’s University Health Services, Justin Wilcox and his staff should have known the rules. That’s what you’re paid to do. And if you didn’t know the testing regimens required and that a small outbreak could lead to this conclusion, that’s on you. Can you have an issue with the rules as they are? Sure. But you have to abide by them. I hate invoking Saban’s name in all these discussions, but do you think he’d skirt protocols as the city alleges the program did? Absolutely not. Doing so would constitute a competitive disadvantage. Justin Wilcox may be leaking out his frustrations to the press and angling for the Washington job but that won’t absolve him of costing his team a game. Accountability starts at the top.
4) Stanford in Shambles
Now if accountability starts at the top, Stanford has to look at David Shaw. While in Palo Alto, he’s been the picture of consistency. That staff rarely changes unless someone leaves and, for the most part, that model has worked for most of his tenure. But somewhere along the line, things have gotten stale. The 52-7 embarrassment to Utah on Friday was just the latest in a string of games flashing to the world in big letters “STANFORD FOOTBALL AS WE KNOW IT MAY BE DYING”. Shaw can point to a top 20 recruiting class as a way to say they’re getting back into the swing of things, but look no further than their poor offensive line recruiting since offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren picked up and left for Rice as a reason to think change is needed. Intellectual brutality has been dead for a couple of years, given Tevita Pritchard’s decision to move the Cardinal to a more pass heavy scheme. But the problem is deeper rooted and while Shaw will probably never leave (and Stanford would never cut ties with him), it’s clear he needs to shake up something to avoid this becoming the norm.
Is Herm’s hot seat cooling off? Given USC’s dumpster fire status in the Pac-12 this year, I’m not exactly going to give Arizona State any additional credit for winning on Saturday. But I do think there is a wins benchmark for Herm Edwards to keep his job safe…or safer. What people need to understand is that Herm is ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson’s guy. Their fates’ are inextricably linked, for better or worse. There’s weeks where it looks like it trends towards the worse and one glance at the state of the Sun Devils 2022 recruiting class affirms that. But the last three games on their schedule are very winnable (Washington, Oregon State, Arizona). If ASU can finish strong and walk into the postseason at 9-3, Herm Edwards can have the offseason to reshuffle his staff, hope the NCAA doesn’t throw the book at them and shore up the recruiting class via the transfer portal. I don’t think the team is on the upswing, but conversation about Edwards’ job security may be headed into the opposite direction, at least for now.