Oct 10

Weeks 4-6 Review: Pac-12 Picking the Winners Recap

The past three weeks of the 2012 college football season began to give fans some focus on who the contenders and pretenders really are. Here’s a quick look back on the past three weeks of Pac-12 action, centered around my 12th Annual Picking the Winners Pac-12 preview, which appeared prior to the season on USCFootball.com. To recap my initial picks:

A Mixed Bag as We Shift to Fall

After pair of very difficult three-loss weeks – thanks mainly to the emergence of a surprise Oregon State squad and the falterings of Utah and California – my 5-0 mark in Week Six is hopefully a sign of things to come. Let’s take a look back.

Week 4

Beaver Celebration

Oregon State Coach Mike Riley, in a photo uploaded to Twitter, is all smiles outside a Pasadena-area In-N-Out Burger on Sept. 22 after his Beavers beat UCLA, 27-20.

Oregon over Arizona, 49-0 (picked at 54-17); USC over California, 27-9 (picked at 45-17): My only two wins of the week were eminently predictable, even though Arizona had stirred up enough interest with a 3-0 start to land near the bottom of the top 25 just in time to give the Ducks an easy win over a very questionably ranked opponent. Still, Oregon’s defense was impressive against RichRod’s redesigned (and heretofore stellar) UofA offense. USC’s bounce-back win against the Bears in the Coliseum was another clockwork win for the Trojans in their 100th meeting with Cal. USC has now won nine in a row over Jeff Tedford.

Among my three losses suffered, the Beavers’ 27-20 win over UCLA in the Rose Bowl — followed by their much publicized trip to a local In-N-Out Burger after the game — was perhaps the most surprising. Oregon State had played just a single game (an upset win over Wisconsin on Sept. 8) thanks to a postponement of its opener and an early bye. But the Beaver defense was more than up to the task of slowing the Bruins’ previously impressive offense.

The other losses — Utah’s 37-7 throttling at the hands of Arizona State in Tempe and Colorado’s shocking 35-34 comeback win at Wazzu — were wholly unpredictable in late August. Heck, the Cougars’ loss was wholly unpredictable with 10 minutes left in a game against a team that had given up 69 points to Fresno State a week before. Injuries and inconsistency have really hampered Utah in the early going. But, at the same time, this Sun Devil team looks like one to watch in the coming weeks.

UW’s Bishop Sankey celebrated with thousands of Husky fans after a 17-13 upset win on Sept. 27.

Week 5

Oregon over Washington State, 51-26 (picked at 48-21); UCLA over Colorado, 42-14 (picked at 30-17): Again, my two wins during the final weekend of September (while I was traveling in London), were about the most predictable of the week. The Ducks’ first foray onto the road in 2012 wasn’t even a true road game (the Cougars hosted the game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field), while the Bruins unloaded on a Buff team that may have still been hung over from what may end up being its lone win of 2012.

On the other hand, even after Stanford’s victory at home against USC, anyone who was shocked that the Cardinal lost at Washington, 17-13, on a Thursday night in Seattle really wasn’t paying much attention. Stanford QB Josh Nunes was bottled up by the Huskies, Stepfan Taylor couldn’t get on track in the running game, and in a game very similar in style and pace to the Cardinal’s win over the Trojans, it was the Huskies who came up with the key plays late in a close and not-all-that-pretty contest.

My other two losses featured road wins for the conference’s early surprise teams: Oregon State over Arizona, 38-35, in Tucson, and Arizona State over Cal, 27-17, in Berkeley. The Beavers moved to 3-0 and up the rankings, while the Sun Devils’ win in the Bay Area got a bit of a road monkey off their backs.

USC’s Keystone Kops routine in Utah got old really fast in a Paris hotel bedroom in the middle of the night.

Week 6

USC over Utah, 38-28 (picked at 27-20); California over UCLA, 43-17 (picked at 31-19); Oregon over Washington, 52-21 (picked at 43-23); Oregon State over Washington State, 19-6 (picked at 33-30); Stanford over Arizona, 54-48 in overtime (picked at 38-24): Finally, a perfect week — though not without some moments of worry. The Trojans’ comically bad first three minutes in Salt Lake City left them in a 14-0 hole. Let me tell you from first-hand experience, that’s really not what you’re looking for when you’re in Paris at 3 a.m. on a Friday, waking up to an alarm to watch the game on your laptop. But, for the next 56 minutes, USC hammered Utah to the tune of 38-7, perhaps finding itself for the first time in 2012.

Stanford’s wild win against the Wildcats on the Farm could finally set Nunes on his way to stepping out of Andrew Luck’s shadow (and, yes, after an impressive first three weeks, the past three weeks have pointed out the deficiencies that remain on defense in Tucson). Across the bay, nothing is a better salve for a pained Cal squad than a visit from its little brother to the south. The Bears’ surprisingly impressive trouncing of the Bruins was Cal’s seventh consecutive home win against UCLA, which last won in Strawberry Canyon in 1998.

Oregon’s ninth-consecutive win over Washington was wholly unsurprising — especially after the Huskies looked so shaky as a group in falling behind 21-0. You can bet that won’t be the UW team USC sees in Seattle this Saturday. The Huskies have a truly split personality at home and on the road in 2012. Finally, though the Beavers moved to 4-0, what’s next after QB Sean Mannion went down with an injury that’s likely to keep him sidelined for the rest of October (at least)?

Record through six weeks: 33-15

Enjoy this weekend’s games!

Sep 18

Weeks 2-3 Review: Pac-12 Picking the Winners Recap

The second and third weeks of the 2012 college football season featured plenty of surprises. Here’s a quick look back on the past two weeks of Pac-12 action, centered around my 12th Annual Picking the Winners Pac-12 preview, which appeared prior to the season on USCFootball.com. To recap my initial picks:

Week 2=At least I’m not a Buff. Week 3=However, I am a Trojan.

After a shaky second week (7-5) – mainly due to a series of big Pac-12 surprise victories – things returned closer to normal in week three (8-2). Let’s take a look back.

Week 2

If it was possible for Colorado to be more embarrassed than it was after losing to Sac State, they might have accomplished it last weekend in Fresno.

Cal over Southern Utah, 50-31 (picked at 44-10); Oregon over Fresno State, 42-25 (picked at 49-14); Stanford over Duke, 50-13 (picked at 38-13); USC over Syracuse, 42-29 (picked at 41-20); LSU over Washington, 41-3 (picked at 31-17): While these four were winners, all by predicted double-digit margins, I only came within 10 points of the final spread on the Trojans’ sloppy victory over the Orange. On the other hand, the Huskies did the conference no favors by laying a massive egg in already provincial SEC-land. My other two wins, Arizona State’s 45-14 whipping of Illinois and Washington State’s too-close-for-comfort 24-20 win over FCS Eastern Washington, were flip-flopped from predictions (I had ASU tight and WSU big).

Two of my five losses were pretty disappointing for the conference. Utah’s horrific performance in a 27-20 loss at Utah State was only overshadowed by Sacramento State taking down a Pac-12 foe for a second consecutive season in a 30-28 win over Colorado (the Hornets toppled Oregon State in 2011).

UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin has been spectacular through three games.

The other three losses in week two were all Pac-12 upsets that gained the conference some national respect. As I said in my preview, before picking Nebraska in a close one against UCLA, “this type of game – early September, traditional football power opponent, at the Rose Bowl – has been when the Bruins play their best.” That they did, notching a 36-30 upset. Arizona gained a measure of revenge for a pair of blowout losses to Oklahoma State the past two seasons by hammering the Cowboys, 59-38, in Tucson – and also serving notice that the Rich Rodriguez Regime is truly underway. And Oregon State, opening its season after the postponement of a Sept. 1 game vs. Nicholls State, stunned two-time defending Big 10 champion Wisconsin, 10-7.

Week 3

Washington over Portland State, 52-13 (picked at 56-10); Oregon over Tennessee Tech, 63-14 (picked at 69-6); UCLA over Houston, 37-6 (picked at 34-14): It’s always intriguing to me to see how close my picks come in games with an overwhelming favorite. In week three, I did pretty well in the Huskies’ and Ducks’ victories over FCS foes, as well as in UCLA’s win over Houston. Not so impressive were my picks in a couple of other victories that also appeared to be lopsided. I underestimated Arizona’s firepower, picking them only by 27 in an eventual 56-0 win over FCS South Carolina State. In reverse, Washington State’s closer-than-expected 35-27 win at UNLV was far less than the three-TD win I’d called for.

I’m not sure if this is right before the second or third time Ute fans stormed the field against BYU.

My other victories included a pair of hard fought losses for the conference. I picked Ohio State to whip Cal by 18. The Bears fought hard, dropping a 35-28 decision. I also picked Missouri to notch a 10-point revenge victory for last season’s loss in Tempe, but the Sun Devils rallied to make it close before losing, 24-20. I also had Utah over BYU, 31-21 – not the craziest call in the Utes’ eventual (and, by eventual, I mean Utah fans rushed the field three times before the game was officially over) 24-21 win.

This was a familiar site on the Farm last Saturday.

Speaking of rushing the field, it’s time to wonder when Stanford’s fans will come to expect a win against USC as their coaches and players seem to? The Cardinal’s fourth consecutive win in the series, 21-14 in Palo Alto, was an upset – sure (I had USC, 38-27, in my preseason picks). But, No. 16 beating No. 3 in an ugly, error-filled early season game sure didn’t seem like a rush-the-field moment. My other Week 3 loss featured, unsurprisingly at this point, Colorado. What was surprising was the score: a lower-divisionesque 69-14 loss to Fresno State. The Buffs will have to pull off one heck of an upset during conference play to avoid an 0-12 season.

Record through three weeks: 24-9

Enjoy this weekend’s games!

Sep 07

Week 1 Review: Pac-12 Picking the Winners Recap

As we close in on week 2 of the college football season, here’s a quick look back on Week 1 of Pac-12 action, centered around my 12th Annual Picking the Winners Pac-12 preview, which appeared last week on USCFootball.com:

Click here for wisdom.

I kicked off the season with a 9-2 weekend (plus an abstention from Nicholls State, which was unable to avoid Hurricane Isaac and travel to face the Mighty Beav in Corvallis). Who was up? Who was down? And who was an ultimate disappointment?

Marqise Lee took Matt Barkley’s first 2012 toss 75 yards for a score.

USC over Hawaii, 49-10 (picked at 49-13) and Utah over Northern Colorado, 41-0 (picked at 38-0): Obviously my two best picks of the week, though I was helped by some dropped USC passes to keep the Trojans under 50.Other decent calls included Oregon over Arky State, 57-34 (in a game that I picked 52-10 Ducks, but UO led 50-3 in the second quarter before pumping the brakes). Oregon wowed a lot of people with their early outburst. Was the second half defensive lapse indicative of some depth issues? You’d have to be reading an awful lot into it to reach that conclusion. I also had UCLA topping Rice by 21, but in a much lower scoring game than the Bruins’ eventual 49-24 win. Even if it was against a horrific Owl program, Bruin fans had to be heartened by QB Brett Hundley’s first performance.

Surprises and disappointments that still worked out ok? How about Wazzu’s ugly performance in a 30-6 loss at BYU. In picking a narrow BYU win, I definitely expected more from Mike Leach in his first game. Obviously, he and the Cougs have a ways to go. In opposition, Todd Graham’s debut in Tempe went far better than expected as the Sun Devils put the hammer to FCS foe Northern Arizona, 63-6. At the same time, Stanford narrowly avoided catastrophe (to channel chronic overstater and Olympic gymnastics “commentator” Tim Daggett) in a 20-17 Friday night fright against San Jose State. Think

DeAnthony Thomas was up to his old tricks in Oregon’s whipping of Arkansas State.

Andrew Luck meant much to the Cardinal?

Also too close for comfort was UW’s 21-12 decision in Seattle over San Diego State. The Huskies’ high-powered attack more closely resembled a late-90s Paul Hackett USC offense. At the same time, the statistics showed an absolute blowout in favor of Arizona over Toledo, but some missed opportunities (and field goals) forced the Wildcats into overtime before they notched a 24-17 win.

Oski wasn’t the only one to leave the new Memorial Stadium deflated.

Finally, my two losses: Colorado dropping a 22-17 decision to in-state rival Colorado State in their annual Denver showdown; and California bellyflopping in the debut of the newly refurbished Memorial Stadium, losing to Nevada 31-24. While CU’s loss isn’t overly shocking – this wasn’t a good football team last year and it won’t be this year – Cal’s Jeff Tedford absolutely must be on the firing line after the Bears’ embarrassing performance. As time goes on, it seems like Tedford loses more and more touch with his players. While Cal should recover easily this weekend, the same can’t be said for most of the rest of 2012.

Enjoy this weekend’s games!