- Q2 Defense
- Rushing Offense, particularly on 1st Downs/Non-Passing Downs
- Q4 Offense
- Redzone Offense
#2: Offensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#3: Offensive 1st Down S&P+
#4: Offensive Q2 S&P+
#5: Offensive Non-Passing Downs S&P+
#121: Defensive 2nd Down Passing S&P+
#114: Defensive Q2 Rushing S&P+
#105: Defensive 2nd Down S&P+
#103: Defensive Q3 Passing S&P+
Raise your hand if you realized that Cal finished below both Oregon State and Arizona in the Pac 10 standings last year. Yeah, that's what I thought. On October 13, Cal was 5-0 and #2 in the country, having just won in Eugene the previous week. Two months later, Cal was 6-6. The only thing that prevented them from missing a bowl altogether was a 3-point home win against lowly Wazzu. Injuries to Nate Longshore and Desean Jackson slowed the offense down, but...I mean...that collapse is just staggering. That they actually managed to win the bowl game after falling behind big early, after awful performances at Washington (37-23) and Stanford (20-13) to end the season, is somewhat miraculous.
Few coaches in America are probably happier to start a new season than Jeff Tedford. Nevermind that he has to replace most of his skill position players--Justin Forsett, DeSean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins, Robert Jordan--he's got both QBs and most of his top defenders back, and...well...2008 probably can't be more painful than 2007. The main source of attention this August has been the QB battle, and it appears for now that Longshore is holding off Kevin Riley, who filled in for him with decent results last fall. Longshore seems to be a pretty frustrating guy--he's capable of more than any of the other QBs, both good and bad. Despite solid protection from the O-line last year, he managed only a 16-13 TD-INT ratio.
Whoever wins the QB battle, he'll have nothing but new weapons around him. You can't figure a Jeff Tedford offense will be unproductive, but this year will test that theory. Youngsters like Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen and Tracy Slocum are battling for the RB job, while the likes of JUCO transfer Verran Tucker, Florida transfer Nyan Boateng, and some other young players are fighting for WR PT.
Defensively, Cal has some potential star power. The LB corps of Zack Follett, Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams is potentially outstanding, Syd'Quan Thompson is looking good at CB (plus his CB counterpart will likely be either Chris Conte or Darian Hagan's Son, both of whom got PT as true freshmen last year. Plus, the D-Line returns quite a bit of experience, led by DE Tyson Alualu, but they need to produce a better pass rush.
In all, the defense should be solid, and the offense will be athletic, but it likely all boils down to QB performance. Longshore looks the part (6'5, 230+) but has only managed a 41-27 TD-INT ratio in his career; Riley got some good experience last year but wasn't able to differentiate himself from Longshore. One of them has to seize the opportunity and lead Cal back to what it's capable of achieving.
Verdict: I can't imagine Cal gravitates toward .500 again, but collapses like last year's can linger for a while. Getting a lot of new blood in the skill positions might actually be a good thing, but one of the QBs has to become a strong leader.
Washington State (3-6)
- Overall Defense, close games
- Defensive Success Rates
- 3rd Down Rushing Defense
- Q4 Offense
#6: Offensive Passing Downs S&P+
#7: Offensive Passing Downs Passing S&P+
#9: Offensive Q3 Passing S&P+
#10: Offensive Q4 Passing S&P+
#125: Defensive Q4 Rushing S&P+
#123: Defensive Passing Downs S&P+
#123: Defensive Q1 S&P+, Defensive Q1 Rushing S&P+
#122: Defensive Q3 Passing S&P+
Bill Doba inherited Mike Price's personnel in 2003 and led it to 10 wins. Unfortunately, Doba wasn't good enough at recruiting and/or development to keep them there. In the last four seasons, Wazzu won 5, 4, 6, and 5 games and was actually lucky to win that many in '07. They went 1-2 in games decided by a TD or less, and were -2 in turnovers, so they actually came close to doing even better, but the stats just didn't back up the results. This was a pretty untalented team, and unfortunately for new coach Paul Wulff, it's going to take him a while to change that. He inherits a team with some defensive potential among the front seven and a solid O-line...and that's about it.
On offense, Wazzu will ride RB Dwight Tardy and WR Brandon Gibson as far as they can go. The QB situation is a mess--Gary Rogers has been unimpressive as a backup through most of his career, and the only other palatable option appears to be K-State transfer Kevin Lopina. The winner of that battle will likely be handing off a lot to Tardy and Christopher Ivory, who combined to average about 5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Gibson has emerged to go for 1900 receiving yards in the last two years and will almost certainly see double-teams this year. If a competent QB emerges, this could at least be a presentable offense.
Defensively, Wulff inherits a unit that never allowed four yards per carry under Doba. The LB corps of Cory Evans, Greg Trent and Kendrick Dunn is pretty stout, and the D-Line's experienced, but there are question marks in a secondary that allowed opposing QBs to complete 61% of their passes for 260 yards per game in '07. The CB situation appears to be as much of a mess as the QB situation, and that will clearly hold this team back.
Verdict: You never know what will happen when a new coach takes over. The cupboard isn't bare in Pullman, but it will take a pretty strong performance to reach bowl eligibility.
- 2nd Down Offense
- 3rd Down Offense
- 2nd Down Defense
- Defensive Line Yards
#2: Defensive Redzone Passing S&P+
#5: Offensive Q2 Line Yards+
#8: Defensive Passing Downs Passing S&P+
#9: Defensive Redzone S&P+, Defensive Q4 Line Yards+
#125: Offensive 3rd Down S&P+
#124: Offensive 3rd Down Passing S&P+
#123: Offensive 3rd Down Line Yards+
#120: Offensive Redzone Passing S&P+
On 4th & Goal, with about 40 seconds remaining in the game, no-name QB Tavita Pritchard completed a TD pass to no-name WR Mark Bradford to give Stanford the winning margin in a 24-23 road upset over #1 USC. The result was about 10x less likely than Appalachian State beating Michigan. Two things about that game: a) it's a shame that Stanford had to play out the rest of the season (they finished 4-8), and b) there's a reason why the winning pass didn't happen on 3rd down. Early word on the recruiting trail is that guys are psyched about the thought of playing for Jim Harbaugh (he just nabbed a commit from 4-star RB Stepfan Taylor...a favorite on my own recruiting hot list). He's intense and fun to watch, and signs point to Harbaugh being able to raise the talent level and succeed in Palo Alto (unless he takes another job).
And eventually they may even start to convert on 3rd downs! Seriously...no team was worse at running or throwing on 3rd downs than the Fighting Trees. And judging by the numbers, Pritchard-to-Bradford might have been the only time they completed a pass in the redzone all season. TC Ostrander, who I'm pretty sure was one of the characters in American Pie (oh sorry, that was Chris Ostreicher), was injured for a good portion of 2007, which was good in the sense that it got Pritchard some experience and bad in the sense that...well, Pritchard wasn't very good. Pritchard posted only a 50% completion rate, 5-9 TD-INT ratio, and less than 6 yards per pass attempt. He returns for the 2008 campaign, but as the numbers would suggest, he's far from a sure thing. He's in the midst of a 3-way battle for the starting job with Alex Loukas and Michigan transfer Jason Forcier.
Whoever wins the job will have a couple decent options at RB--Anthony Kimble and Toby Gerhart put up decent numbers in '07. Kimble was the main man (509 yards) until he got hurt, and in limited action (12 carries), Gerhart showed some explosive potential. Unfortunately the picture is not as rosy at WR, where two of the top three WRs (including the aforementioned Bradford) are gone. 6'3 junior Richard Sherman has a world of potential, but he's just about the only proven target beyond decent TE (and KC native) Ben Ladner. The O-line has a couple potential stars in RG Alex Fletcher and RT Chris Marinelli.
Defensively, the D-Line has a lot of potential despite ranking just #77 in rushing defense--DE Pannel Egboh and DT Ekom Udofia make for a nice tandem. Meanwhile, Stanford's three best LBs also return, along with two good safeties in Bo McNally and Austin Yancy. In other words, Stanford could be very strong up the middle, but we'll see what happens at CB. This defense could make some major strides this year, but they did only rank #98 in total defense last year--"strides" will only take them so far in one season.
Verdict: If they were settled at QB, I'd be tempted to make a bold, optimistic prediction for Stanford in '08. But alas, the Cardinal fall in the same "potentially decent but fatally flawed" category that much of the Pac 10 seems to occupy this year.
- 2nd Down Rushing Offense
- 2nd Down Defense
- Rushing Defense
- Points Per Play (offense and defense)
#3: Offensive Q2 Line Yards+
#3: Offensive 2nd Down Line Yards+
#3: Offensive Q1 Line Yards+
#4: Defensive Redzone Rushing S&P+
#118: Offensive Redzone Passing S&P+
#115: Offensive Q4 Passing S&P+
#110: Defensive Q2 Passing S&P+
#108: Offensive Passing EqPts+, Offensive Non-Passing Downs Passing S&P+, Defensive Q4 S&P+
As you might expect from a coach like Ty Willingham, whose overly-conservative tendencies almost seem to prevent him from getting the most out of his solid-but-not-spectacular recruiting classes, Washington was good at run-blocking in '07...and really, that's about it. But hey...if you could only be good at one thing, there are worse options than that, I guess.
In all, the 2008 Huskies should actually be pretty decent. Willingham's conservative nature is offset by a potentially dynamic QB in Jake Locker. Locker will need to be unshackled a bit to thrive (short, conservative* passes are not his forte), but he's got a world of potential, and he may be exactly the talent a Willingham-led team needs to thrive. If Locker, who's been recently hampered by a strained hammy, can make a few more plays in his sophomore campaign, the offense should roll. They've got a strong O-line, led by Casey Bulyca, and some decent options at RB. Brandon Johnson looked like the favorite to succeed Louis Rankin, but he's struggling to return from offseason knee problems. Johnson wasn't fantastic as a backup in '07, and there are a couple decent RSFr's that could steal his job if he's not careful, but behind good blocking the running game should be pretty decent either way.
* I've used the word "conservative" three times in a paragraph and a half. It's Willingham's biggest strength and biggest weakness, and I can't think of another word to describe it.
Defensively, Washington was a mess last year. A Willingham defense should never finish #103 in total D, but that's exactly what happened. They were bad at defending the run and really bad at defending the pass. This year they have to replace a majority of their experience at D-line, and their secondary is still a mess. There's been a lot of shuffling of personnel, and maybe the shuffling will work...but it probably won't. Meanwhile, they have a potential stud LB in E.J. Savannah, but he continues to struggle making grades. Without him, the defense is almost completely lacking in star power.
Verdict: August has not been kind to Washington so far. Injuries on offense and an academic (possibly temporary) casualty on defense have left a slightly-undermanned team...well, more than slightly undermanned. If Locker and Savannah see the field and play well all season, this is a pretty decent team. If not, then Ty Willingham needs to start updating his resume...
BALANCE OF POWER
There are three tiers in the balance of power, really. USC is alone in Tier 1, there's a 3-way tie between Oregon, Arizona State, and California in Tier 2, and there's a 6-way tie with everybody else in Tier 3. I have no idea how to differentiate between teams in each tier (though Locker and Savannah's struggles at Washington make #10 an easy choice...for now), but here goes...
Likely Wins (12): @ Virginia, Ohio State, @ Oregon State, Oregon, Arizona State, @ Washington State, @ Arizona, Washington, California, @ Stanford, Notre Dame, @ UCLA
Likely Losses: none
Prediction: The thing about USC is...most of their recent losses have been entirely unforeseen. They should win every game on the schedule, though I think 11-1 is more likely. I just don't have a clue what the one loss will be, so in the meantime...12-0 (9-0).
Likely Wins (8): Washington, Utah State, @ Purdue, Boise State, @ Washington State, UCLA, Stanford, Arizona
Likely Losses (1): @ USC
Tossups (3): @ Arizona State, @ California, @ Oregon State
Prediction: An unfortunate schedule here, getting the other Tier 2 teams on the road. I say they lose those two and win the rivalry game against OSU. 9-3 (6-3).
Likely Wins (5): Northern Arizona, Stanford, UNLV, Washington State, UCLA
Likely Losses (1): @ USC
Tossups (6): Georgia, @ California, Oregon, @ Oregon State, @ Washington, @ Arizona
Prediction: I just don't trust these Tier 2 teams enough to automatically pick them to win on the road against Tier 3 teams. I say ASU loses to Georgia and Cal and beats Oregon. As for the three Tier 3 road games...we'll say they knock off UA and UW but slip up in Corwallis. 8-4 (6-3).
Likely Wins (5): Michigan State, Colorado State, UCLA, Stanford, Washington
Likely Losses (1): @ USC
Tossups (6): @ Washington State, @ Maryland, Arizona State, @ Arizona, Oregon, @ Oregon State
Prediction: Win the two big home games against ASU and UO. Beat Maryland in a tight cross-country road game. Only win one of the three Tier 3 road games...we'll say they beat OSU and lose to Wazzu and Arizona. Can you tell I'm extremely wary about Cal's week-to-week performances? 9-3 (6-3).
Likely Wins (5): Arizona, Fresno State, Washington State, Stanford, Oregon State
Likely Losses (4): @ Oregon, @ California, @ Arizona State, USC
Tossups (3): Tennessee, @ BYU, @ Washington
Prediction: I say they pick off Tennessee to start the year, then trip up against BYU for the third time in 12 months. And we'll say they beat Washington. So...7-5 (5-4).
Likely Wins (3): Idaho, Toledo, Washington
Likely Losses (3): @ UCLA, USC, @ Oregon
Tossups (6): @ New Mexico, @ Stanford, California, @ Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona State
Prediction: Six more tossups...I'm having trouble committing to anything with the Pac 10. Lose to New Mexico, lose to Stanford, upset Cal, lose to Wazzu, beat Oregon State, lose to the rival Sun Devils. 5-7 (3-6).
Likely Wins (1): San Jose State,
Likely Losses (6): @ Arizona State, @ Notre Dame, @ UCLA, @ Oregon, USC, @ California
Tossups (5): Oregon State, @ TCU, @ Washington, Arizona, Washington State
Prediction: The schedule's just not going to allow Stanford to make a bowl run this year. I say they knock off OSU, Arizona and Wazzu at home and lose the other tossups. They improve overall, but their record stays the same. 4-8 (3-6).
Likely Wins (1): Portland State
Likely Losses (4): Oregon, @ UCLA, USC, @ Arizona State
Tossups (8): Oklahoma State, California, @ Baylor, @ Oregon State, @ Stanford, Arizona, Washington, @ Hawaii
Prediction: Eight tossups! A new record! Okay...lose to the 'Pokes, upset Cal, beat Baylor, lose to Oregon State and Stanford, beat Arizona and Washington, and finish off with a win over Hawaii, who really could suddenly be one of the worst teams in D1. 6-7 (3-6).
Likely Wins (1): Hawaii
Likely Losses (3): @ Penn State, USC, @ UCLA
Tossups (8): @ Stanford, @ Utah, Washington State, @ Washington, Arizona State, California, @ Arizona, Oregon
Prediction: I really don't know what to do with OSU. I have them uncomfortably low on the pecking order, and their schedule doesn't make things any easier for me here. A bunch of losable home games and winnable road games. Let's see...lose to Stanford and Utah, beat Wazzu and Washington, beat ASU, lose to Cal, then tumble with losses to Arizona and Oregon. 4-8 (3-6).
Likely Wins: none
Likely Losses (5): @ Oregon, Oklahoma, @ Arizona, @ USC, @ California
Tossups (7): BYU, Stanford, Oregon State, Notre Dame, Arizona State, UCLA, @ Washington State
Prediction: What a brutal schedule for a team in need of some easy wins. They could win 7 here, but there's not a single sure thing on the schedule. I say they upset BYU (somebody's got to), beat Stanford, lose to OSU, beat Notre Dame (just because), then stumble down the stretch. Jake Locker ends up with a new head coach in 2009 and is a Heisman contender in 2010. Or something like that. 3-9 (1-8).
Arizona State (6-3)
Oregon State (3-6)
Washington State (3-6)
BCS National Championship Game: USC (12-0)
Holiday Bowl: Oregon (9-3)
Sun Bowl: California (9-3)
Emerald Bowl: Arizona State (8-4)
Hawaii Bowl: UCLA (7-5)
Las Vegas Bowl: nobody
Poinsettia Bowl: nobody
With so many teams so close together, the Pac 10 could struggle to fill its bowl slots. That, or they could have about 5 teams go 6-6.