Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Week 1 Pac-10 Roundtable

We've got some exciting stuff for you for your Wednesday. For the 2008 season, the eight powerhouse Pac-10 blogs will combine for the 2008 Pac-10 Roundtable. Five questions addressing the latest in the Pacific-10 Conference, and better yet, you can get eight different takes on each question. Each blog will rotate who hosts the roundtable, and our friends at Addicted to Quack are hosting it this week.

PFN will be joined by Addicted to Quack, Building the Dam, the WSU Football Blog, UW Dawg Pound, California Golden Blogs, What's Bruin, Dawg? and Conquest Chronicles.

For links to everyone's responses, check out this week's Roundtable hub at their site. Without further ado, here's this week's PFN take on the Pac-10 Roundtable.

1. Not a lot of people predicted UCLA's upset of Tennessee. UCLA was somthing terrible last year, and with major losses to graduation and and very unresolved quarterback situation, it wasn't unreasonable to expect them to hover in the bottom half of the conference. While the offense had its problems (only 29 yards rushing and four picks), the defense was phenomenal, holding the Vols to a smidge over 300 yards, picking up two turnovers, and blocking a punt for a touchdown. Is UCLA for real? And can they be in the mix with ASU, USC, Oregon, and Cal for one of the top four spots in the conference?

I don't think so...yet. Kevin Craft was Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde in this game and you can't be an upper echelon team in the Pac-10 with a quarterback who only plays well in one half. Maybe that works for South Carolina, but not on the West Coast. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of their young defense, especially Bosworth. He's come a long way during this past offseason in improving his mental game and picking up the opposing offense, and it showed against Tennessee.

Early injuries are going to do UCLA in. Logan Paulsen and Kahlil Bell, two of their only veteran players on offense, are already banged up, and Bell came into 2008 with injury issues. Ryan Moya emerged late on Monday as a capable backup target at tight end but he's not a starter. They're definitely not quite in the mix for the top half of the conference yet, but get back to me after they play BYU.

2. Meanwhile, its same old same old for the Washington Huskies. Washington was walloped by Oregon for the fifth year in a row and, with BYU and Oklahoma coming up for their next two games, its hard to see where a win will come any time soon. I don't see any games on the schedule that they should win and, other than WSU and Notre Dame, there aren't a lot that I'm even convinced that they can win. The defense is swiss cheese, and, other than Jake Locker, there isn't even any real talent on the offensive side of the ball either.

Less than a decade ago, Washington was a prominent national contender. Now, they may have less talent than any other team in the conference. We're all aware of the rich tradition of Husky football, the question is how did things fall so far so fast, and how does UW get back to its customary winning ways?

I don't want to pin any of this on Rick Neuheisel because it's not really his fault. He was doing a tremendous job in Seattle before the gambling scandal. Things took a turn when they replaced him with Kevin Gilbertson, someone who was not ready for the spotlight as a head coach in a BCS conference. He wasn't a motivator, he wasn't a tactician and, worst of all, he couldn't recruit to save his life. Then Washington started losing it's best in-state players.

I feel like the hire of Tyrone Willingham has been a failure. Willingham is going to go down as one of the most overrated coaches of this era once he's fired after this season is over and he's done nothing to captivate local recruits, the devoted UW fan base and, most importantly, the boosters. His recruiting has been none the better than Gilbertson's and he's done nothing to develop or coach up any talent around hyper-talented QB Jake Locker.

Lastly, have you been to UW lately? The facilities are despicable. Why would you want to spend your college career at a falling apart Husky Stadium when WSU is rebuilding their facilites and Oregon, right down the road, has the best ones in the Pac-10? The allure of going to UW is fading.

3. The team that beat Washington, Oregon, looked amazingly good, especially on defense. Moreover, after last year's implosion following the Dixon injury, it was a thrid string quarterback who did most of the damage offensively. Oregon is talented and deep, but can finally live up to their promise and challenge USC for that conference title?

No, but not to their own accord. The reason is that USC just looks too damn strong to be challenged this season. But don't take that as Oregon not being able to. This is still a very dangerous football team. Justin Roper is fine after his mild concussion and he's been able to, in his short career, sling the ball all over the field. Jeremiah Johnson is going to step in admirably for departed Jonathan Stewart and become yet another top flight RB out of Eugene. And we haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to LeGarrette Blount.

Most importantly, their defense is beyond comprehension. Patrick Chung is the best individual defensive playmaker in the conference. Their linebackers are big, tough and blitz-happy. Their line makes offensive lines look like nursery schoolers.

This is a good football team that will still experience growing pains due to their youth on offense, but they could emerge as the Pac-10's second best team.

4. California started off strong, exercising some of last year's demons with their 38-31 home win over Michigan State. The quarterback controvery appears to be solved, as Kevin Riley clearly outplayed Nate Longshore. However, 31 points is a lot to give up to a middle of the road Big Ten team, and other than Jahvid Best, there isn't a lot in the way of proven talent at the skill positions. Many Pac-10 observers have Cal ranked in the top four of the conference. Is that ranking justified give the collapse of last season and lack of returning starters offensively, or did Cal benefit from their reputation?

First and foremost, you should never give up 31 to Michigan State. There's no more Devin Thomas. There was little to fear from the Spartans and they made Bear Nation sweat.

I think Kevin Riley is the clear starter there and was throughout fall camp. The one thing that they're lacking is a reliable target through the air. Cameron Morrah is a capable pass-catching tight end, but frankly, none of their receivers scare me. What does scare me is their emerging two-headed monster in the backfield. I guarantee that none of you had ever heard of Shane Vereen before he busted that 81-yard game-clinching run on Saturday, but you'll be hearing a lot about him from here on out.

I do think that they belong in the top four of the conference on the merits that I don't think any of the lower division teams (Stanford, OSU, Arizona) are any better talent-wise than the Golden Bears. I can't justify any of those teams beating Cal at this point, so for that reason, they still belong in the top four.
5. Oregon State has a perception problem. Their long list of early season losses (Cincinnati, Louisville, LSU, Boise State, Fresno State, etc.), was followed up this year with an opening game loss at Stanford. A road game at Penn State this weekend has many pundits predicting an 0-2 start for the Beavers. However, in spite of their usually awful starts, the Beavers almost always turn their season around to finish in the upper echelon of the conference.

This causes a talk radio debate to rage in the state of Oregon. The Oregon Ducks are seen nationally as the more relevant program, mainly due to their very high highs (a legitimate late season national title contender twice in this decade). However, Beaver fans point out Oregon's semi-regular late season swoons, the factthat Oregon State tends to come back late in the season, and the fact that both teams have similar overall records over the last few seasons to make the point that Oregon State should be on equal footing with the Ducks, if not seen as the more dominant program based on two consecutive Civil War victories. Who is the more relevant program nationally, and do Oregon State's bad starts contribute to your perceptions?

Oregon has been and always will be the more relevant program nationwide than Oregon State. Their facilities, affiliation with Nike, innovative offense, coaching prowess and, let's face it, outlandish uniforms will always have the Ducks on national TV over the Beavers.

The problem with Oregon State is lack of exposure and, yes, their slow starts. For two consecutive years now, Oregon State has had a national television audience early in the season and twice they've fallen on their faces. The loss (self-destruction) at Cincinnati last year was the East Coast's only chance to see the Beavers all season, and it was a less than complimentary way to say "Hello, everyone!" In fact, many East Coast journalists I talk to were very set back when I told them how good OSU looked by the end of the season. Once you lose the voters, you lose publicity, and apathy about your program sets in on the national scale. It's going to be the same way this season now after the Thursday night loss at Stanford and, presumbably, when they lose to Penn State this weekend.

Photo Credit: ESPN

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