4 Up and 4 Down: Pac-12 Week 12

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.

1) Oregon on Top

Every week, it seems that people expect Oregon to be knocked off by someone. “Their focus wanders, they’re not consistently sharp, they’ve been decimated by injuries. Surely this will be the game that they finally get knocked out of Playoff contention!” That conversation will surely continue this weekend as the Ducks head to Utah. But until someone beats them, I’m not gonna bet against them. Against Washington State, Oregon looked the part and would’ve likely run away with this game if not for a bizarre Anthony Brown fumble at the goal-line that couldn’t be reversed because of the dismal shape of the ESPN broadcast. That said, this Utah game is gonna be huge. Prime time on ABC, on the road against their toughest opponent since Ohio State in Week 2. The Ducks have a big chance to convert a lot of doubters and until the game is over and they lost, they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.

2) Utah Survives

Now this week is just as big for Utah. If they do manage to knock off Oregon, then the possibility of a 9-3 finish to the year is on the table. Given where they were heading into Pac-12 play, that’s an astounding accomplishment. With what’s happened off the field in Salt Lake City the last 18 months, Kyle Whittingham deserves a ton of credit for keeping this program together the way he has. It just kills me that the Charlie Brewer experiment flamed out in such spectacular fashion that it really derailed what could’ve been a special season. This Utes offense is special and doesn’t need Cam Rising to be extraordinary to perform at a high level. Whether their defense can slow Oregon down is another story.

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3) ASU Stays Alive

Arizona State would need a lot of help to backdoor into the Pac-12 Championship Game but I don’t think the Utes will oblige them. In spite of that, an 8-4 or even 9-3 finish to the year looks like it could be in the cards for the Sun Devils. That’s not only good enough for Herm Edwards to hang on and weather the storm of this NCAA Investigation but would be one of Sparky’s best seasons since 2014. Last week’s win over Washington showed some resilience that this team hasn’t displayed their week 5 win over UCLA. The Sun Devils will get the chance to match Oregon State’s run game in Corvallis this weekend in what should be a really fun matchup. The only question left with this team is what on earth happened to Jayden Daniels?  

4) Beavs Are Bowling

Congrats to Jonathan Smith and the Beavers. The Oregon State fanbase has been waiting on this return on investment since they brought Smith back to Corvallis in 2018. They almost had the chance in 2019 but gave up a last second touchdown to Washington State and finished the year 5-7. This year, Stanford gave them an assist by being an objectively garbage football team but you can’t just show up and expect to win. Chance Nolan had one of his most efficient games in recent weeks, the running back committee returned and everybody ate and while I can’t judge Trent Bray off this week the defense did show some improvement. The big test is going to come against the Sun Devils this weekend. Can OSU get to seven wins? 

Heating Up

Has Oregon gone full heel turn into a modern triple option team? The stats from last week would suggest it. As a team the Ducks ran for 306 yards. Anthony Brown ran for 123 yards and 1 touchdown. Travis Dye went for 88 yards and caught another 25. Byron Cardwell had 98 yards and 2 scores averaging over 10 yards a carry. Some of that may be game script and strategy against the two Washington schools. It’s also worth noting the weather in Seattle two weeks ago was so bad it would be malpractice to not pound the rock. But I kind of like what the Ducks are doing. I’d be surprised if they didn’t follow a similar script against Utah this Saturday. 

1) Break From Lake

Jimmy Lake, we hardly knew ya. After just a season and a half, Washington Athletic Director Jen Cohen announced the program was parting ways with Lake. It’s very clear what the boosters and powers that be in Seattle think about this football program and what it can be. You don’t make a move like this unless your expectations are more in line with what the Chris Petersen years gave you. To be clear, I think Washington can achieve that with some degree of regularity. But they have to absolutely ace the next hire. Parting with Lake now saves them the negative recruiting they’d be hit with, potential press gaffes that he’d no doubt walk into over the next couple of weeks and maintains a locker room that did not seem to absorb his message. Who do they go for next? That’s a bit lower down.

2) Buffs…Not Back

Oh Buffs, we thought you had it. That first half at the Rose Bowl looked like the return of Colorado. Shoot, it kind of looked like it may be the end of Chip Kelly. But then the Bruins came out in the second half and absolutely pasted the Buffaloes to such a degree that a 10 point lead became a 24 point deficit in about a quarter and a half. If anything, it means that changes will be made at CU. A win here or a 5-7 end to the season may have been enough for Karl Dorrell to think turnover wasn’t required. But I think a loss like this spells the end of the Darren Chiaverini era as Colorado’s offensive coordinator. There’s some talent on this team but it’s clear the program’s problems go far beyond its’ roster construction. It doesn’t help that Mel Tucker left the way he did, especially considering his success and long term extension in East Lansing. What could’ve been…

3) Stanford still in Shambles

Goodness gracious is Stanford football in some serious trouble. Tanner McKee should win the Heisman on the basis of how bad this team looks without him. David Shaw went with Ari Patu, a true freshman who hadn’t played a competitive game since 2019, to start against Oregon State and it went as expected. He ended up getting hurt and Air Force transfer Isaiah Sanders came in with similar results. Mike Bloomgren isn’t walking through that door. That much is clear. But man, it has to be better. Whether or not Shaw sees this as a slow moving train crash or a one year blip on the radar remains to be seen. But to the outside observer, there has been a clear and steady decline since Bloomgren left. I don’t think Shaw has lost his touch, but I do think inertia has taken over on that staff and new blood is needed. You just can’t justify what we’ve seen them put on the field the last few weeks. 

4) Cal’s Calamities

Boy should the Cal athletic department have egg on their face this week. Turns out, 31 of the 47 CoVid positive cases within the football program were symptomatic. The Doctor who went on CBS Bay Area to blast the Cal and the city of Berkeley walked back her criticism for basically speaking with no knowledge on the situation. Justin Wilcox is going to skate on this because he’s a pretty respected guy with Pac-12 media folks and did not graduate from the Jimmy Lake school of Public Relations. But should he? Absolutely not. The entire athletic department and football staff should be called to task for their handling of the situation and for their willful misinformation laundered out to the press as if this was a City of Berkeley issue. No other school managed to have this kind of outbreak. Anywhere. Not in the SEC, not in the Big Ten and not in the Pac-12. For some weird reason, winning just hasn’t seemed to matter to some coaches in the conference if it means they have to give in to being wrong. Whether that’s Rolovich, Lake with the Jon Donovan hire, Chip Kelly defending Jerry Azzinaro or now Justin Wilcox letting a team CoVid outbreak get so bad on a 99.5% vaccinated team it triggers an OSHA intervention, the Pac-12 is in some bad shape. To quote Taylor Twellman, “WHAT ARE WE DOING!?!”

Cooling Off

I sympathize with Jen Cohen. Jimmy Lake was the obvious hire at the time and was viewed by many, myself included, as a slam dunk that would keep the Huskies competitive in the Pac-12 North for years to come. But now the coaching L’s are starting to add up. Cohen has already had to fire her initial women’s basketball coaching hire in Jody Wynn. She’s had to can Jimmy Lake and Mike Hopkins seat might as well be a five alarm fire at this point. The most successful coaching hires in Seattle, from Keegan Cook to Heather Tarr to Jamie Clark, were all inherited. I like Utah State’s Blake Anderson. I like Nevada’s Jay Norvell. Maybe Chris Petersen convinces Kellen Moore to come to the college level. Whatever direction they go in, Jen Cohen needs this one to work. Her star rapidly ascended when she took over the Washington Athletic Department in 2016. But things have changed quite a bit as we prepare to head into 2022. 

4 Up and 4 Down: Pac-12 Week 11

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.

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. 

Heating Up

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.

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. 

Cooling Off

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. 

4 Up and 4 Down: Pac-12 Week 9

Akili Arnold

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.

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. 

Heating Up

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. 

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. 

Cooling Off

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.