Pac-10 Roundtable: Week One Edition

Cool new feature this year.  Many of the best Pac-10 blogs around the college football blogosphere are going to be getting together once a week to have a roundtable about what's going on around the conference.  For those of you familiar with the BlogPoll roundtable, it will work very similar.  One blog will host each week, with the other blogs posting their response sometime thereafter.  ATQ has the honor of  hosting the first week.  Due to the void of Stanford and Arizona blogs on the Internet, we have eight blogs representing different schools participating:

Oregon State will be represented by Building the Dam.  The Washington schools chime in with The WSU Football Blog and our newest SBN blog, UW Dawg PoundCalifornia Golden Blogs checks in to represent the Bears, and Conquest Chronicles and What's Bruin, Dawg? corner the SoCal market.  Finally, Pitchfork Nation comes to us from the hot state of Arizona.  Now that we have the introductions out of the way, onto the questions:

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?

Amazing what a bit of coaching can do, eh?  While I always thought that the anti-Dorrell zealots were a bit over the edge, its hard to argue with the early results.  UCLA has always had some good individual talents, its possible that they just needed some coaching to bring it together.  I'm not ready to say that's the case yet--I need more than one game to forget about years of Bruin ineptitude, but if they beat BYU next week, or even lose a close one, talks of a Bruin resurrection will be taken much more seriously.

Perhaps even more concerning that talent for UCLA, however, would be the schedule.  The remains of their brutal non-conference schedule are at BYU and a home game with Fresno State.  UCLA could play well and still lose both of them.  They also run into an unfortunate time as they have Cal, Oregon, and ASU all on the road.  UCLA could be a very decent team--even a fifth place Pac-10 team, and lose all those games plus USC to finish 6-6.  That said, all of those are imminently winnable games, and only wins against USC or Oregon would shock me.

The jury is still out on the Bruins.  I need to see something more at quarterback and more of a run game than I saw against the Vols.  But, I now have an open mind to the Bruins, which is more than I could say a week ago.

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've thought long and hard about the Washington Huskies' plight.  I don't feel even an ounce of sorrow for them but, you have to admit, its certain a curiosity tale about how a team could fall so far so fast.  Some of it seems to be instability--Rick Neuheisel scandal-tinged departure didn't happen at the best time (late July).  Given the timing, the replacement had to come from in-staff (Keith Gilbertson), and was plagued by a lack of ability to recruit or develop talent.  After two years, Gilbertson was gone, and Ty WIllingham came aboard.  However, other than Locker, he hasn't done a whole lot better in the "recruiting talent" part of the deal, which is ultimately responsible for the lack of wins.

UW is really kind of an enigma.  Seattle is a beautiful city--one that should be easy to recruit to.  The problem is that the facilites stink.  If you've ever been to Husky Stadium, you know that its old and falling apart.  Other than Martin Stadium, it may be the worst facility in the Pac-10 (the setting is gorgeous, but don't confuse the setting with the stadium itself).  I haven't seen their other facilities, but I hear that they're not much better.  This wasn't a problem when kids thought that they were going to play for a UW powerhouse, but when UW became mediocre and, even less than that, nobody wants to play for a mediocre team with crap facilites.

UW has a ton of rich alumni, but they don't seem to be ponying up to help out the football team.  And it doesn't help that the athletic administration isn't really football oriented.  But, there is a proposal on the board for a $350 million remodel of Husky stadium.  If they can find a way to get this much needed facility improvement done, and hire a coach that actually inspires some passion (for which Willingham fails miserably), they'll start winning again.  Give UW some credit, they've cleaned up the off field stuff but, as you can see with the rumblings out of Washington, alumni will only put up with not winning for so long.

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?

Talent-wise, they absolutely could.  Outstanding defense--maybe the best in the conference.  Really, John Bacon at middle linebacker is the only weak link, and I think he'll be replaced by Casey Matthews in the next few games.   The offensive line is outstanding.  Two very good running back.  A plethora of good receivers.  And, although the quarterbacks are inexperieced, they are very talented.  Play the conference schedule ten times on a neutral field, and I'd bet SC wins it six times, Oregon three, and some other team (likely ASU) once.

The problem is that the conference isn't played on a neutral field, and Oregon's conference schedule is the worst in the Pac-10.  They play at USC, at Arizona State, at Cal, and at Oregon State (which is a rivalry game in a stadium where they haven't played well in the last decade).  The truth is that, even for a very good Oregon team, it will be tough to come out of that stretch without at least two losses.  The first game of that quartet is the game at USC.  If the Ducks pull out a win at the Coliseum, then we can look at this as a possibilty.  Although, the way the schedules line up, even if Oregon wins that game, SC still has to be considered the favorite.

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?

Oh, I think Cal definely benefitted from their reputation. Not saying that Cal isn't a good team--they beat Tennesse and Oregon before their implosion last year.  Its just that, given that implosion, why are we all so quick to put them back near the top of the conference?  In the spirit of disclosure, I, too, pick the Bears fourth.  But there is no guarantee.  Both UCLA, Stanford, and Arizona had performances that suggest it may be possible for one of them to vault into that spot, and Oregon State's usual late season surges make them a contender as well.  I believe that Cal is more talented than any of those teams, but they need a few more good performances before they are really worthy of the annoitation that they have been given.

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 fac that 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?

Of course Oregon is the more relevant program!  And OSU's early season antics have almost everything to do with it.

Perception is reality.  Because the Pac-10 TV contract is something terrible, many games between Pac-10 foes aren't seen nationally (I know that FSN has the 'national' TV contract for the Pac-10, but those are often pre-empted in local markets for pro-baseball, hockey, or basketball games).  When Oregon State wins those games against Pac-10 foes late in the season, few people see them.

However, its also true that few of them are picked up and, when they are, few people nationally are interested.  This is because there is no storyline that anyone nationally wants to follow with OSU.  They all gave the Beavers a shot at viewership early in the season, and saw them get embarrassed by some Big East or WAC school (or Stanford, in the case of this season), often multiple times in one year.  Never mind what happens later in the season.  Once the Beavers look thoroughly uncompetitive against Cincinnati early in the season, they are written off almost entirely by the national audience.  They are not rediscovered again until fans are shocked to see that they have clawed their way back into the Top-25.

Oregon may not be the best team late, but they establish themselves early in the season.   People see Oregon beat a Michigan or Wisconsin or Oklahoma (albeit controversially), and their interest is piqued.  It also helps that such wins firmly entrench Oregon in the rankings (at least until about November).  And people want to tune in to see what an exciting Oregon team is going to do next.  As long as they are winning at the time, what past performance says is likely to happen in the future is irrelevant.  Meanwhile, Oregon State is already cast off as losers, and thier late season finished go unnoticed.  If they would win those early national TV games, they would find the spotlight on them as well.

Check out the other blogs over the next few days for their responses to the questions.  California Golden Blogs will be hosting next week.

GO DUCKS!!!

--Dave (addictedtoquack@gmail.com)

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