So, like usual during a bye week...it's a little quiet over here at PFN.
But not to fear! The men of the Pac-10 Square Table are back!
California Golden Blogs is our host this week, and when we arrive, we'll be forced to provide all the beer and then leave with no women after the 24-14 lashing they doled out on us.
To the roundtable!
1. Although it's still too early to make bowl predictions with any sort of accuracy, it seems at this point in the season that the Pac-10 is unlikely to fill its 7 contractual bowl slots. How many Pac-10 teams do you think will eventually become bowl eligible?
First of all, seven bowls is far too many, especially when only one of them is on New Years Day. Thanks, Tom Hansen!
Right now, USC, California and Oregon are the locks to go to the postseason. That takes care of our BCS spot, the Holiday Bowl and the Sun Bowl. Three cheers for El Paso!
After that, I think that Arizona, Oregon State and Arizona State will be the only three others to get bowl eligible, and that the Beavers and Sun Devils will barely scrape in with 6-6 records. Stanford's last five games include trips to UCLA, Oregon and Cal and a home game with USC. Those four losses and their token win over WSU gets them only to 5-7. UCLA has six left...I've got them losing at Cal, vs. OSU, at ASU and home to USC, dropping them to 4-8.
It's still a sad year when the Pac-10 doesn't fill the slots that it signed contracts for and that two of those teams, in my opinion, won't even get to the magical 7 to guarantee a bowl trip.
2. After dispensing with Oregon and Arizona State, USC seems to have righted itself back onto the path towards another Pac-10 championship. Obviously everyone's looking to Cal as the last serious challenge, while no one expects this weekend's trip to Wazzu to be anything but ugly, but 3 potentially tricky road trips remain: Arizona, Stanford, and UCLA. Where are the Trojans most likely to be tripped up?
This is going to sound strange, but their toughest trip will be to the Farm. The Wildcats have all but proven that they fold under pressure (losses to lowly New Mexico and mildly better Stanford) and UCLA doesn't have the magic that took them to the 2006 13-9 upset.
Stanford has a very balanced defense with a couple strong linebackers, they've established their ground game with Toby Gerhart and seem to have found their QB of the future in Alex Loukas.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think the Trojans will lose any of those games. Frankly, they should roll up on each of them. However, if there's one of those teams that could pose a bit of a problem, it's the team in Palo Alto that could cause some flashbacks to last season.
3. The season is 7 weeks old, nearly half over. What's the biggest surprise in the Pac-10 so far this year?
I think the biggest surprise is not that the conference as a whole has declined in quality in the span of one season but the swiftness and sudden nature of how bad conference play has become across the board.
No one expected how badly this conference would perform against Mountain West. No one could forsee just how bad the quarterback play would be outside of the Coliseum. And no one...NO ONE...could really know just how bad Washington State would be this season. Seriously.
4. Is it possible that USC puts itself back in the national title race? Is it deserving to be back in the national title race?
Without a doubt, USC should be still in the conversation.
Let's get this straight immediately. With the amount of parity and with the talent level improving across the board significantly nationwide, it's going to be a long time until we see another Perfect Storm like we had in 2005 when both USC and Texas ran the table. It's the only way we can explain Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Kansas and other non-traditional football schools finding success on the gridiron. Last season, LSU won the national title with two losses on their resume.
As long as USC can win out the rest of their games, they should definitely be in the mix for the BCS Title Game. Frankly, with the way top-five teams have been falling in the last year and a half, all it takes is one more wild weekend for Southern Cal to be back on top.
5. Arizona State has obviously been a massive disappointment so far this year. Dennis Erickson has never been one to stay in a "rebuilding situation." How long do you anticipate Erickson staying for and what can be done for next year to rebound from the disaster that is 08?
If you listen to this week's Pitchfork Podcast, you'll hear my answer to this question in detail. Here's the Cliff's Notes:
It all depends on how this situation pans out at quarterback. Rudy Carpenter is gone after this season, ending his illustrious 11-year career with the Sun Devils (or so it seems). None of the guys behind him; Danny Sullivan, Samson Szakacsy, Chasen Stangel or Jack Elway; have emerged as the clear heir apparent to the Under Center Throne.
There are, and I'm being told this as I've had no time to research it myself, apparently a bunch of highly talented junior college quarterbacks looking for D-1 homes this spring.
If DE is in this thing for the long haul and is intent on making Arizona State his last coaching stop, then we'll see Szakacsy/Stangel/Elway (not Sullivan, he's terrible beyond terrible) and have a lean year or two in the desert. If Dennis wants to make 2009 his last go around and have one more chance at a top-2 Pac-10 finish, we'll be seeing a brand new BMOC next season.