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) The Anthony Brown Revenge Tour
Few things are better in sports than watching an athlete rise to the moment. As “We Want Ty” chants started to gain steam in Autzen Stadium, Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown threw up the double birds. After a third quarter filled with boos from the fans (which, corny behavior guys, c’mon), Brown was sensational. Stats don’t lie here either:
-Game tying drive: 2/2, 26 yds, 1 TD, 2 att, 16 yds.
-Game winning drive: 2/2, 49 yds, 1 att, 11 yds, 1 TD
Take that for data. You can argue over why the boos were needed to motivate this offense. You can take issue with the inconsistency of the unit’s focus. You can even quibble over the conservative nature of Mario Cristobal’s offensive ethos. But Anthony Brown showed he’s the guy on a 5-1 team. That’s who you roll with the rest of the way. And he earned it on Friday, at least for another week.
2) Utah’s Bad Moon Rising
Let the legend of #ThiccBoi7 begin. And as PNW Chapter President of the #Thiccos, I feel obligated to put our young adult son on the trending up list. How could you not? His second half against Arizona State was nearly perfect. Rising went 13/15 for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air as Utah upset the Sun Devils on a balmy Saturday night at Rice-Eccles. This is more the Utes team we thought we were getting at the beginning of the year. Rising’s dual threat ability (6 att, 59 yds, 1 TD on the ground) has changed the complexion of what was a one note offense with Charlie Brewer under center. It’s easy to see why Kyle Whittingham went with the Baylor transfer at the start of the year but one can’t help but wonder what the first three games look like if it’s a Thicc Boi Summer.
3) Chips on the Table
Boy did Chip Kelly need this one. Had UCLA lost this matchup, the questions of what the last few years had been for. If everything under Chip had been built for this to be the breakout year, what would the conclusion have been if they didn’t, you know, break out? Luckily, Bruins fans can hold off on that question for another week. UCLA is 5-2, hosting College Gameday and have a chance to re-enter the Top 25 this weekend when No. 10 Oregon comes to Pasadena. The two-headed monster of Zach Charbonnet and Brittan Brown is still unbelievably potent. Kelly and his staff did a good job of simplifying things for Dorian Thompson-Robinson as well, utilizing his legs and giving him shovel pass looks to counter some downfield accuracy issues from this year. 3/12 on 3rd down against the Huskies is a concern, but the bigger worry is if a Jerry Azzinarro defense won’t get gashed again when they face a superior offensive line.
4) Brendon & The Buffs
Colorado scored points? 34 of them?! Might as well paint the Front Range black and gold. Turns out, allowing your quarterback to throw downfield and let your talented receivers make a play actually works. Who knew!? Jokes aside, this was a really good game and a total pick-me-up for Brendon Lewis. Sure, it’s against Arizona. But at this point, the Buffs having a plus day offensively against anyone is vitally important. What’s more, it was required that Lewis do this as Colorado’s run game put up a somewhat alarming 130 rushing yards total. If nothing else, it was an encouraging sign for a young quarterback that’s been grinding to get better. Games like this can assure that he isn’t lost forever, far too soon.
No team in the country has turned it on quite like Utah. Okay, maybe Washington State. But as you’re about to read that freight train might have just run into an 18 wheeler that was placed in the center of the train tracks by a driver who kept mumbling something about train crossings and safety mandates. Anyway, the Utes look like who we thought they’d be coming into the year. Cam Rising has this offense humming. The defense looks every bit like themselves again and the usually reliably good Whittingham special teams have stabilized. It’s a shame they had to drop those early games otherwise we could be talking about Utah as a team with an opening to run for the conference title. Luckily, the rest of the Pac-12 is just as committed to nonsensical chaos. So the Utes still have a chance. And the way they’ve been playing as of late, it’s hard to bet against them even against a good Oregon State team.
Four Down: Pac-12 Teams and Players Trending Down
1) Nick Rolovich: Down Catastrophic
Forget trending down, Nick Rolovich is trending off the map. Our boy is down catastrophic. A veritable Icarus made flesh. Head coaches are kings in college football. A winning college football coach is a God. Look no further than Ed Orgeron to see what you can get away with when you’re winning versus what all comes out when you’re not. In a lot of ways, Rolo flew too close to the sun. He thought his influence was something greater than what it was and that, when the rubber met the road, that power would allow him to not have to answer to anyone. Only he forgot one thing: he wasn’t winning enough, hadn’t been there long enough and didn’t take any stand that would allow him to mount a proper defense to wield his influence properly. Simply put, you don’t make your bosses lives hell and then go shocked Pikachu face when they don’t stand with you. And it sucks, because Washington State was starting to look really fun. Rolo is a good coach and the players seem to like him. But he didn’t sacrifice for them like they would’ve been willing to do for him. If you can’t lead, then you’re not fit to coach.
2) Wilcox’s Woes
Justin Wilcox is, by all accounts, vaccinated. There’s no firing him for cause. The buyout is $16 million. So, Golden Bear fans, I’m sorry to say he’s your guy for the duration. It’s pretty insane to think about what his trajectory was just after Cal had gone down to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and beaten Ole Miss in 2019. That team was 4-0 and ranked 15th in the country before dropping four straight games in which they didn’t score more than 17 points a game. They just have not been able to figure out the offense under Wilcox. From Beau Baldwin to Bill Musgrave, something is just not working. And now, with the defense struggling for the second straight year, there are some bigger questions worth asking. A 4 Star QB and 4 Star RB have decommitted this season. Cal had 8 plays inside Oregon’s 10 yard line and couldn’t muster a game tying touchdown on Friday. The Bears are 1-5, looking like one of the worst teams in the conference and, sadly, some uncomfortable discussions may need to happen if this keeps up.
3) Hurting Huskies
I can understand a 5-1 Oregon team not wanting to change their quarterback mid-season. Why mess up what keeps winning you games, right? I do not, however, understand trying something different when you’re 2-4. Dylan Morris, as of this week, continues to be the guy. Jimmy Lake seems to be continuing the Pac-12’s recent trend of bad coaches being stubborn with their bad choices. But maybe Lake knows a truth that is far more uncomfortable for Washington fans: it wouldn’t matter who you throw back there. They’ll suffer behind an offensive line that is somehow one of the worst units in the country. Morris, Sam Huard, Patrick O’Brien, maybe those guys are just interchangeable faces who would get killed facing any power five pass rush. What’s tough is that Washington is too good to be doing this. They recruit too well (though that could be better too), are in a state flush with power five talent and more elite talent every year and have too much history and money behind them for this to be the result. Jon Donovan is clearly an issue at offensive coordinator but Jimmy Lake is the guy that co-signed on him. Better days may lie ahead in Seattle but it’s looking pretty bleak this year.
There’s a scene in Finding Nemo where they flush Nemo down the toilet to get him to the ocean. The young clownfish has to go through plumbing, sewage treatment plants, navigate schools of larger fish, get out of the net of a factory trawler and then almost gets crushed to death before finally reuniting with his father. Jedd Fisch is currently in the sewage treatment plant because as gross and disgusting as this, it will probably get more painful before the Wildcats find salvation. Quarterback Jordan McCloud is out for the year. His backup, Gunner Cruz, is done for the year as well but not after playing a game so bad that I worry about his long term confidence (did we really need the shot of him crying under a towel, Pac-12 Network?). The talent is just not there in Arizona right now. Jedd Fisch has made some coaching missteps, sure. Overall, he’s recruited well. He’s sold his message. He’s trying with the fanbase. But this is a long term build. If Finding Nemo isn’t a good analogy, think Shawshank Redemption. Wildcat fins still have to wade through a river of poop before they feel cool rain and the air of freedom again.
I hesitate to put the Beavers here but historically they’ve had a lot of trouble with Utah under Jonathan Smith. And if quarterback Chance Nolan hasn’t made noticeable improvements during the bye week, this may be a bad night at Reser Stadium. The Beavers remain the top rushing attack in the conference and have plenty of weapons on that side of the ball. But defensively, Oregon State has been exposed a couple of times now. It doesn’t help that their premier edge rushers are unavailable for one reason or another. If Cam Rising continues to play the way he’s played the last two weeks, it’s going to be a long night in Corvallis. Chance Nolan will have to keep pace and with Utah being one of the few teams that can effectively stack the box and have the athletes on the back end to compete with the Beavers receivers and tight ends, it’s going to be a challenge. A couple weeks ago, Oregon State had running the table potential. Now the pendulum has swung to them maybe being the 7-5 team we figured they’d be at the start of the year. Not that that’s a bad thing. But they’ll just look back on that Washington State and Purdue game and really want those back.