Everyone has a nemesis. Mine just happens to be my older brother. But our incessant bickering has led to many an entertaining discussion through the years. And because much of these debates have centered on college sports, it seems only appropriate we take them to ATQ to settle them once and for all. Here's your weekly fraternal debate affectionately known as Brother v. Brother.
Paul: How boring are bye weeks?
Joe: Apparently, you missed the Texas A&M-La Tech barnburner on Saturday night. Apparently, I also have no life.
Paul: I did miss it, but not without good reason. With the Ducks off, I planned a nice little Saturday with the lady. If I've learned anything from you, it's that bye weeks offer the perfect midseason opportunity to pay down mounting relationship debts by doing a little something nice for my better half.
Joe: Yeah, that...really worked out for me, huh?
Paul: HA! Can't win 'em all, Brother. By the way, don't think for one second I've forgotten about your admitted anxiety before that UW game. Face it: You worried far too much about the Huskies, despite all evidence pointing to a ninth-straight beat-down.
Joe: Yeah, yeah. Where's the harm in having a healthy fear of your opponent?
Doesn't that underpin Coach Chipper's entire "Win The Day" philosophy? It's basically cheap insurance. If you lose, you get to say, "I told you so." If you win, you get to say, "Better luck next DECADE, Dawgs!"
Paul: Or, you proudly and loudly belittle your rivals for about 10 years and never once have to regret it. That's the approach I've been taking, and it made our latest win over the Dawgs that much sweeter.
Joe: Speaking of rivals, there's one just a little bit closer to home that's become quite the story halfway through the college football season. Moreover, it's a rival that's actually beaten us in the past decade (barely). If I'd given you 1.5 weeks at the start of the year as the over/under on "weeks the state of Oregon stays undefeated," would you have taken it? Didn't think so. Yet, here we are seven weeks deep and...the state of Oregon is one of only two states with a completely unblemished FBS sheet. Can you name the other?
Paul: New Jersey, but with only one FBS team (Rutgers), I'd say that's much less impressive. I'm more impressed by the great state of Massachusetts, which, between UMass and Boston College, is 1-10.
Joe: Ouch. Of course, that's about equal to the state of Oregon's winning percentage for the better part of 3 decades. Not so much anymore. (1) Are Mike Riley's Beavers for real?
Paul: Despite Cody Vaz's fantastic fill-in performance in Provo, I still think the loss of Mannion pretty much derails any semblance of a chance the Beavs had at a truly special season. However, I'm not completely counting them out just yet for two reasons: First, Riley can flat-out coach, and second, that defense will continue to keep the Beavs in games they'd otherwise have no business being in. Unfortunately for them, you can't win the Pac-12 with a great defense alone. You have to put at least 30 points on the board most weeks. Vaz shocked pretty much everyone with his effort against a very talented BYU defense, but I just don't see him leading the Beavs to very many 30-plus point tallies the rest of the way.
Joe: You may need 30 to beat us, for sure, but do you really need that many to beat the rest of the Pac-12? I'm skeptical. If Stanford can hold SC to fewer than 20 points, so can the Biebers. That defense is the real deal. It absolutely will keep them relevant for several more weeks and perhaps even longer. As for the loss of Mannion? Yeah, I think that's ultimately gonna smart a little. Vaz was brilliant in relief but he was also new and I doubt BYU had much film on him. I predict he'll come back to Earth pretty soon and play more like a career backup. Then again, nobody thought Lyle Moevao would offer full replacement value for Sean Canfield back in 2007. Duck fans should remember how that turned out. (Hint: It's the last time they beat us.)
Paul: My guess is most Duck fans have chosen NOT to remember that game...so thanks for the reminder. I also think we'd all like to forget Sunday's release of the initial BCS standings, and we will so long as we end up in one of those coveted top two spots. (2) What needs to happen for Oregon to find itself in the national title game?
Joe: The line of sight is pretty clear. Alabama needs to keep beating everybody (especially the Mad Hatters), Florida needs to drop a game (preferably before the SEC title showdown), and Notre Dame needs to lose (soon). Oh, and we need to win the rest of our games. All of the rest of our games. The BCS title game could absolutely include a one-loss team but only if said team hails from Dixie. Our schedule simply doesn't match up this season (no thanks to Kansas State).
Paul: I think it's quite a bit simpler than that. We only need to win out. Our schedule thus far has been pretty weak, but look at the second half: No. 20 Stanford, No. 10 USC (potentially twice), and No. 8 Oregon State. If we run the table, we're in. However, if we dump the first one to USC (and assuming we win the second in the Pac-12 title game), we'll still need help; likely a lot of help.
Joe: Yeah, more help than we're gonna get. It's 13-0 or bust, Brother. And by "bust," I mean the Rose Bowl. That's the new consolation prize for us, by the way. Remember when it was...the Independence Bowl? Anyway, we're probably getting ahead of ourselves a bit here. Let's do a midseason stocktaking of sorts. (3) Who's your surprise team so far (other than the Beavs), your coach of the year (other than Riley), and your halfway Heisman winner?
Paul: For the first two, there are a number of teams and coaches that deserve mention, including Notre Dame and Brian Kelly, Florida and Will Muschamp, Texas A&M and Kevin Sumlin, and even Penn State and Bill O'Brien. But the clear choices (besides Oregon State and Riley, of course) are Kansas State and Bill Snyder. The Wildcats are 6-0, ranked in the top five, and that Week 4 win in Norman looks a lot more impressive after the Sooners dismantled Texas this past weekend. And despite the loss to Texas Tech last weekend, West Virginia's Geno Smith is still the clear-cut favorite to win that highly coveted bronze statuette.
Joe: I think Notre Dame could be exposed soon so I'm gonna reserve judgment on Kelly. Muschamp and company have definitely surprised but have you seen that guy on the sidelines? He's like a fan (read: a lunatic). Johnny Manziel (a one-time Duck commit) in Kevin Sumlin's A&M offense has been a revelation, but I think the Aggies are a mirage that will absolutely be exposed in the next couple weeks. They literally play no defense. Kansas State probably is for real but they were expected to be a top 20 team. Meanwhile, here's who absolutely wasn't: Penn State. They were basically dead and buried in most people's minds (including mine) after the 4-year bowl ban was announced barely a month before the season started. What Bill O'Brien has done is nothing short of amazing: He's kept the Nittany Lions relevant, something I predicted would be impossible to do just a couple months ago. I wasn't at all alone.
Paul: You forgot your Heisman front-runner.
Joe: There isn't one. It's absolutely a toss-up until someone seizes the opportunity.
Paul: Fair enough. Let's turn that last question around. (4) Who's your biggest disappointment, both nationally and in the Pac-12, and which coach has the hottest seat at the midway point?
Joe: The biggest disappointment nationally has to be Texas. I mean, it's not even close. How does the flagship program of the country's most talent-rich state give up 111 points in two weeks? 111. I'd be willing to bet Rick Barnes' UT hoops teams have gone two-game stretches (multiple times) without giving up that many. It's just not acceptable and oughta start thinking about where he wants to retire. In the Pac-12, I'm going with Washington State. Utah has been a major disappointment but they have some pretty good excuses (think injuries). Wazzu is no better (and maybe worse) than last year even with Mike Leach at the helm. I thought he was an offensive guru? The hottest seats in the country (aside from Brown) belong to Joker Phillips (gone), Derek Dooley (soon to be gone), and Gene Chizik (gone if he doesn't win another game this year...which is possible). I wouldn't rule out Mark Richt as a surprise fire if Georgia goes into a death spiral, as well.
Paul: Considering I picked Texas as my most underrated team coming into the season, I don't think I can fairly say they're a disappointment. And you could certainly make a case for just about any marquee Big Ten team (specifically Sconny, Michigan, or MSU), but they've actually lost to some quality opponents (with MSU's loss to Iowa last weekend the notable exception). Regardless, the choice couldn't be more obvious to me: It's undoubtedly Arkansas. Few remember the Razorbacks were actually a preseason top-10 team. They're now 3-4, including losses to Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers. Consequently, head coach John L. Smith's seat has to be the hottest in the country. So hot, in fact, Arkansas's AD is already talking about what he wants in his next coach. Yikes.
Joe: To be fair, though, they lost their QB in that Louisiana-Monroe game and Smith was busy going bankrupt this preseason before Bobby Petrino decided to take a little motorcycle ride. Anyway, what about the Pac-12's biggest disappointment?
Paul: Cal. No question. Every year, it feels like the Bears are supposed to be the Pac-12's surprise team. And every year, they end up mired in mediocrity. With their newly renovated stadium set to debut this season, it felt like the perfect opportunity for head coach Jeff Tedford to get the program back on the right track. Instead, they opened the season with a thud—a home loss to Nevada. Cal has a chance to right the ship in the second half, but given the past few seasons, I'd adjust any expectations of it happening.
Joe: Hope I'm not jinxing us here, but...they actually remind me a lot of this week's opponent, Arizona State. I worry about them both every year and those worries almost always end up being unfounded. With the built-in advantages they have (location, location, location), they should be better than they are. I suppose it's about time to talk about this week's matchup, huh? (5) How good is this once-defeated Sun Devils squad? Are my worries misplaced again?
Paul: New head coach Todd Graham certainly has done a heck of a job getting the ASU program going in the right direction again. In fact, of the conference's four new coaches, he's definitely been the most impressive so far. If it weren't for Riley, I think he'd be the frontrunner for conference coach of the year. That said, it's still Arizona State, meaning they're the same underachieving bunch we've grown to know and love. By the way, it's worth noting the last time ASU hired a new coach (Dennis Erickson back in 2007), the Sun Devils started out undefeated (8-0) before stumbling against—you guessed it—the Ducks. They ended up losing 30 of the next 51 over four-plus seasons leading to Erickson's eventual dismissal following last season.
Joe: I don't think anyone questions Graham's ability to manufacture an explosive offense. His decision to anoint Taylor Kelly as the guy to orchestrate it, though a surprise to many, looks like a genius move now. The dude has only turned into the third most efficient passer in the entire FBS ranks. All the early-season positives aside, however, I'm not impressed with the level of ASU's competition to this point. That loss to Mizzou looks worse every week, though (to be fair) it was on the road. The bottom line is that I could see them hanging tough and making it stressful for our Ducks. I could also see us blowing them completely out of Sun Devil Stadium. Either way, I'm definitely gonna see it. In person. With Baby Bro. You excited for Mancation, Paully, or what?
Paul: I literally cannot wait! Three football games in four days? Yes, please! Should we give predictions on each of the three games we're going to see this weekend?
Joe: Does the Pope poop in the woods?!
Paul: Alright. First stop: Tempe. I think the Ducks take this one in a similar fashion to the last six: Oregon 49, Arizona State 21.
Paul: Even though Michigan State's rattled off four in a row in the series, I think ol' Brady Hoke gets his first Paul Bunyan Trophy in a close one: Wolverines 28, Spartans 21. Next, we head south to Cincinnati for the Bengals-Steelers. Steelers are 0-fer on the road so far, and I suspect it'll stay that way. Bengals 21, Steelers 17.
Joe: Toughest one to call, of course, since it's an NFL game. I'm gonna go with the Red Rifle and his Bengals in a mild upset, 24-23. That Steel Curtain isn't so fearsome minus Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.
Paul: Did we just agree on all three?
Joe: Sure did. We might just get along this weekend..."might" being the operative word.