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) 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.
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?
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.
Four Down: Pac-12 Teams and Players Trending Down
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!?!”
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.