Starting this week, CougCenter has the pleasure of joining a number of other Pac-10 school blogs for the Pac-10 Roundtable, in which each blog sounds off on a number of pressing questions in the conference.
What follows is our take on the burning quesitons for this week. Check out the answers of the other participants at California Golden Blogs, Addicted to Quack, Conquest Chronicles and What's Bruin, Dawg? The UW Dawg Pound and Pitchfork Nation ought to have answers up by the end of the week, too.
Q: Every week we take a look at the Pac-10 scoreboard, and every week it just seems to get worse for the teams at the bottom of the conference. Just how bad is the bottom of the conference this year? In historical terms, can you name a year in which there were so many poor teams at the bottom of the Pac-10? What do you think is the primary factor for this huge drop-off between last season and this season in the conference?
Honestly, I think this whole thing is overblown. Yes, we (WSU) are really bad. But with the rest of the conference, what we really seem to have is a consistency issue -- which, really, is nothing new in college football over the past few years.
Oregon State loses its first two games of the year, including a drubbing at the hands of Penn State, but then beats USC and nearly beats Utah. Is OSU good or bad? USC beats the hell out of Ohio State, then loses to Oregon State. Are the Trojans good or bad? Oregon narrowly beats Purdue, narrowly loses to Boise State, then gets blown out by USC. Is Oregon good or bad? Arizona goes out and destroys everyone they play, except for New Mexico. Are the Wildcats good or bad?
If this continues, I'd probably reach the conclusion that there's just a lot of mediocrity in the conference, outside of USC. If you're looking for a reason, it's just cyclical. A conference can't be great every year -- not even the oft-worshipped SEC. But I'd be surprised if it continues this way. Things will start to shake out, and I'll bet at least a couple of teams end up being considered real good by the end of the year. The problem, of course, is that the reputations for teams and for the conference get made during the nonconference season, and ours is more or less solidified at this point.
Q: Coming in to the season, many people thought Arizona State would be a dark-horse contender in the Pac-10. Things haven't exactly gone according to plan so far in Tempe. What does Arizona State have to do to get back on track, and can Erickson replicate the same sort of success he saw last year with the team?
I bought into the myth of ASU this year, and I fully regret it now. The Sun Devils were a paper tiger, and we all should have seen it coming. They feasted on weaker opponents last year, building their entire reputation on beating a then-No. 25 Oregon State to move to 4-0. They then went on to beat Stanford (4-8 overall last year), WSU (5-7), UW (4-9), and Cal (in the midst of that ridiculous freefall in which the Bears lost six of seven games).
I was at that game against WSU, in which ASU needed a fourth-quarter comeback. I just remember thinking they weren't that good. Not just playing down to the competition, but just not that good. The Sun Devils then went on to lose by double 12 to No. 23 Oregon, beat unranked UCLA by four, lose by 20 to No. 3 USC, beat unranked Arizona by three, and lose by 18 to No. 10 Texas. See where I'm going with this?
I just think we all really misjudged how much talent this team had. They were able to make a living last year generating turnovers against like-talented opponents, and haven't done so this year. In 2007, they had a +5 turnover margin against unranked teams, -2 against ranked teams. This year? Minus-3 against unranked teams. That's been the biggest difference, and it's exposing ASU for what it really is -- another mediocre Pac-10 team.
Q: Well, so much for the other Oregon school beating USC. Does USC's erratic nature open the door for any other teams to surprise the Trojans the rest of this year, or do you think USC's got it out of their system at this point? Out of the Trojans' remaining opponents, which team do you feel will give USC the most trouble, and why?
Oh yeah, there are games on their schedule that should worry them. If a team can hit them in the mouth, they can be had. To that end, I think either Cal or -- try not to laugh -- Notre Dame can beat USC.
Cal could do it because of its offensive line and spectacular running backs, the same formula OSU used (assuming Nate Longshore still is playing like he did last Saturday). Notre Dame is getting a lot better in a hurry. I can't stand Notre Dame as much as the next guy, but mark my words: That is going to be one dangerous team by the end of November.
Q: Answer: 2. 5. 10. Question: The number of years it will take for UCLA to challenge for the Pac-10 title. Discuss.
Less than five, but more than two. Rick Neuheisel has proven to be the ultimate opportunist in his previous two stops, but he inherited much less talent at UCLA than he did at Colorado or UW, so it's just not going to get turned around as quickly. Recruiting will be key, but the guy's got a reputation for recruiting soft, becoming enamored with skill players at the expense of the trenches. Has he learned from his past? That will determine it more than anything.
Q: So, does Cal's rotating quarterback bingo have any chance of succeeding during the rest of the year? Can Tedford continue to alternate Riley and Longshore on a game-to-game basis, and perhaps more importantly, do you think he will?
At this point, I think the job is Longshore's to lose. Tedford wants a quarterback that can win a game, not a quarterback whose best trait is "not losing" it. The guy has made a career out of molding great college quarterbacks, and his ego simply won't allow him to believe that he can't get more out of Longshore, no matter how nuts Longshore drives him with the turnovers and bonehead decisions. And I think that's the right move -- this conference is ripe for the taking, and with that running game, they almost only need the threat of a passing game. They get that with Longshore, but not with Riley.
Don't look too closely, but Mike Stoops may actually be in the process of saving his job out there in Tucson. What do the Wildcats need to do in order to continue their early conference success?
Prove to me they can beat somebody who doesn't suck. The offense looks awesome, but c'mon -- they haven't beaten a team ranked better than 71 in total defense, and they played both Washington (No. 119 nationally) and Idaho (No. 120). Additionally, their defense has yet to be tested. The one game they lost, they allowed 221 yards rushing. Guess what Stanford, rushing for nearly 170 yards per game, is going to try and do?
Beat Stanford and show they belong on the same field with Cal. Then I'll believe.