Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday Stuff, D-Tackle Style


Lots of links inside and outside of the WSU universe, so we'll jump right in.

First of all, a huge thanks to a reader and fellow Coug Kristopher Jones. Kristopher is pretty gifted as a video guy, and sent me a few new creations. These are from the glory days, going way, way back....all the way to 2001!





Great work Kristopher, and thanks again. The videos are an eye-opener for three big reasons: 1) We were really good back then, and Gesser was just a total winner; 2) I don't know about you but it gets me pumped up for some WSU football; and 3) We have a LONG way to go to get back to this level don't we??

One can at least have hope with some of the 2003 highlights. You know, a team that not many people thought was going to do much after losing their senior record-setting QB, and the understudy who was taking over was a senior with limited playing time over his career (and some rough playing time spots at that). But 2003 was a special, special team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball with three starters in the secondary who have played in the NFL.

That brings us to today. The biggest difference compared to where we were in 2003 vs. today isn't just the overall talent on that defense. We remember the flash-n-dash speed of Acholonu and Brown off the edges. We remember the speedy, physical linebackers with Derting and Don Jackson and either Scott Davis or Al Genatone. But the one spot people forget? The defensive tackles. The most underrated aspect of that great run from 2001-2003 are the defensive tackles. Rien Long, of course, the big-time force inside as a first team All-American, Outland trophy winner, etc. But it was the presence inside with guys like Jeremy Williams and Tai Tupai and even Steve Cook rotating inside with power and energy that allowed the defensive ends to fly up the field in one-on-one situations and make plays. It was those guys on the inside that helped occupy the center and guards on the opposing offensive line, allowing the linebackers to flow to the ball and make plays.

Now look at what our tackles look like today. Well, there's A'i Ahmu.

The long-maned wild-man is a whirling dervish inside, a ball of power who can shoot gaps and get upfield. He's a playmaker from the D-tackle spot, and could have a huge senior year. Of course, IF HE'S HEALTHY. Ahmu started 11 games in his true frosh year in 2004, and everyone thought we had a true star on our hands. But oh those injuries. That stress fracture that just never seemed to heal was his undoing, and now, he's started just 11 games over the last two years COMBINED. We need a hero inside, and Ahmu is our best bet but obviously has to stay healthy.

Now don't get me wrong. It's not like Ahmu is the only tackle on the roster. I like Eich, as in Matt Eichelberger. But Eich is a senior already, and we pretty much know what we're going to get there. He can occupy some space with his 6-4, 317-lb frame, but he isn't exactly a major force inside. He's been a backup his whole career, so there isn't a whole lot of hope that he'll turn into a ferocious beast that cannot be contained. If Eich can be neutralized by one offensive lineman, we might have a problem in helping ease the likely double-teams that either Ahmu will see inside, or Andy Mattingly could see on the outside with a guard sliding out to help the tackle assigned to Mattingly.

Maybe the hero is going to be JC transfer Bernard Wolfgramm? Wolfgramm looks to be Ahmu-like in his playmaking ability on the defensive line. He's played a lot of D-end, and he really stood out on tape in the recruiting videos that were shown at the various banquets this winter. But Wolfgramm is projected to possibly play, if not start, at a D-tackle spot. He has the size at 6-3, 270, and serious athletic burst to where he could overwhelm some bigger, slower, less athletic offensive guards. Pair him up with Ahmu on passing downs and it could be an inside surge we haven't seen in a long time around the Palouse.

But of course, there's always a catch. First, Ahmu needs to stay healthy. Hold your breath there that each day of camp you don't see the news that you dread. And Wolfgramm might make an impact, but as is almost always the case with JC's, they need some time to get settled. It's no secret that even the best JC's take the first month or so to figure it out and hit their stride, so, we might be into October before we see what Wolfgramm can really do at this level.

The other wildcards in the mix? Toby Turpin, Tyson Pencer and Andy Roof. Turpin had little impact last year, just four tackles as a redshirt frosh in very limited playing time. But he looks the part at 6-6, 270, with room to put on more weight. Given the current depth chart, you have to believe Turpin will see several opportunities this fall to factor into the rotation. Pencer is finally coming after a long journey from Delta, BC, where he delayed enrollment at WSU until this year. Pencer has the frame and is still growing. Originally listed at 6-6 and a still-growing 260 lbs, Cougfan's latest insider piece has him now a strapping 6-7, 274. He is destined to play inside with that size. But he hasn't played a down yet at any level beyond high school, so, it's tough to predict how he'll do. But the door is open for him to make an impact this fall.

And finally, the ongoing Andy Roof saga. What's interesting is the nugget Wulff unveiled at media day last week, that charges still haven't been filed against Roof. Given the firestorm of negative press against him when the story first broke, and to consider that it's now a few months later and still no charges seems a little odd. Maybe the circumstances surrounding the Roof story aren't exactly as they appear? I know we've had several people tell us that we don't know all the facts, and that there is a huge side of the story that isn't out for full public consumption. We'll see how it plays out. It's hard to know what to expect from Roof, if he can play this year. He's moving to tackle after being an O-lineman his whole WSU career, and he missed the entire season last year, so, who knows. If he is eligible and good to go, hopefully he can shake off the rust and cause some havoc.

Moving on, some links for your enjoyment:

Coach Wulff will host an online chat tomorrow at the official site. He did one earlier in March and it worked out pretty well. Get in there and fire away tomorrow.

The scoreboard is coming along. You can get a live look at it on the top-right of the site, but, the official Martin Stadium site updated with a July 30th photo gallery on the stadium renovations with this pic of the scoreboard:

Some people have mentioned that it's been doing a lot of tests lately, and that it's hard to tell from pictures but it looks really, really good.

You think we had some off-the-field troubles with 25 "problems" in an 18-month window? Have you heard about Penn State lately? Try 46 offenses over the last several years. It's so bad that ESPN did an Outside the Lines segment on their troubles. Joe Pa is 81 now, so you have to wonder why he's still hanging on with all this turmoil. Penn State kicked a couple of defensive linemen off the team yesterday, and it could only be the beginning. What a mess.




That's about it for a Thursday. Enjoy your day, and as always, GO COUGS.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brinkhater Diaries: Miller High Life

Brinkhater Diaries Vol 1 (7)


“Dear Diary:

This has been the most amazing week of my life!

For the past week, I have sat at the site meter of the WSU Football Blog and watched the numbers light up like a slot machine.

One hundred, two hundred, five hundred, one-thousand, two-thousand hits a day! And from all over the world!

I mean, Diary, can you really believe it?

My evil plan is working! World Domination is clearly in sight!"

-- Diary Entry June 23, 2008

Ah, but just a few days later, as Obi Wan doth noted when the Death Star obliterated the planet Alderon...

"There was suddenly silence....."


You know, when we first started this blog (my uncle Sedihawk and me) we did so for two REALLY important reasons.

The first really important reason? Sedihawk thought that a blog would be the perfect platform for writing about the Cougs all day without having the correspondence be traceable over our respective company e-mails.

And he was right!!!!

But the second reason was mutually understood, yet at times painfully unspoken:

BOTH Sedihawk and I desperately wanted to be Ted Miller.

For Sedihawk, the reason was (and is) totally altruistic: Hawk wanted to cover the Pac-10 with the precision, insight, and poise that Miller routinely exhibited then in his column at the PI as he does now writing 6 newspaper articles a day at ESPN.com

As for me, well, my visions of being Miller-like were much more juvenile (surprised anyone?).

After all, I didn’t want to be like Ted for the writing.

Hell, I can't write to save my fricking life!

Instead, I wanted to be like Ted so I could be cool!!!!

How cool, you ask?

Well, cool enough that I could spend last week singing “That’s Amore” at some fancy restaurant on someone else’s dime like Miller did with all of those other good sportswriters, coaches, and players the night before Pac-10 Media Day!

Mind you, that wish (and urge) was not directed toward an infatuation with college age students like Jake the Snake.

Heck, that's Cougfan's role in the world.

Instead, I wanted to hang out and partake in those shin digs so I could get trashed with the likes of Thiel,Miller, the Go 2 Guy, Groz, Gas, and dare I say Benedict Condotta. I mean, we could toss a few back, play a little “Stump the Schwab” type game

complain about sore backs, trick knees, nagging spouses...

And of course, make a LOT of fun of the Huskies!

(and THAT would mean making a lot of fun of Condotta).

At any rate, it really became all too apparent that the ONLY reason for our rush of “hits” last week was because our man, Ted Miller, threw us a few national-size bones and the pack came and went.

Oh, the scourge!

You know, Warhol said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame.

But do any of you know what it feels like to get 8 minutes of intense infamy and then get left out naked in the 110 degree cold of Northern California?

I mean, "Damn you, Ted Miller!" How could you leave me like this?

Shoot, it was JUST two measly weeks ago we were on your short list, and now, you don’t bring us flowers anymore?!

But rather than revile you, I thought I’d take a quick look down memory lane to let everyone in the world know HOW MUCH WE WANT TO BE YOU!!!! (And truly this is no joke!)

So, here’s a pic of when Ted when he came into my life:


This is what I call “Cool Hand Luke Ted.”

There’s no dancing or messing around with this Ted: We’re talking about a pure North-South glare AND hairstyle. Although a bit cropped, this is the true-blue “blow dry and brush straight back” job with the do.

Solid, solid reporting during this period about the Huskies. It made me a bit uptight. But man I wanted to be you, Ted....Man, I wanted to be you!

Phase Two of Ted is the “Jet Set Ted.” This Ted is more of the sports coat, no tie Ted.

I also really liked this Ted:



As you can see from the mug shot, this Ted is a little more cunning as exhibited by a bit of an east-west look to the hair. You can also see that Ted’s face is a bit more rotund at this particular phase.

I’m betting that this is about the time that Ted got his first raise and finished his first year with Mrs. Ted.

Still great sportswriting here as Ted expanded his role outside of pure sports reporting to some columns about other sports as well.

“I love you, man!”

Phase Three Ted is a much more relaxed, “coming into his own Ted.” This is a good Ted, although much more reclusive. This shot depicts much more of the rugged outdoor type version of Ted hallmarked by a switch from east-west to a west-east hairpart. Solemn, masculine, with a bit of mystery, don't you say?


Needless to say, this is also a classic, if not Vintage, Ted.

Man, is he great or what?!

Finally, we have the au currant version of Tedliness:

At first, I thought maybe that this was a bit of a metro-sexual version of Ted—aka “The Rick Bucher Ted.”

But, really this is just the "Kind, sensitive, gone-Yoga-on-me, cuz I live now in Arizona and I'm the BEST FRICKING PAC-10 WRITER EVER!!!!! Ted"

This Ted is less elusive in his looks, although he did stay with the West-East look on the hairpart. But what’s really striking is the nice tan, and the bit of the strawberry blonde thing. Very nice.

I also like girl-tease like he’s not wearing a shirt when the photo was taken.

“Very Nice!”

In any case, I’ll look forward to having you here on this Blog when we get seventh or better, Mr. Miller.

In the meantime, whether you like us or not, we’ll always be fans, and it will always be “Miller Time" round these here parts....

Switching from High Life to Low Life, how about the News this Week that Clay Bennett and his boys have closed in on a new name for our dearly departed SuperSonics. And WOW! was I surprised at the genius of what they came up with:

THE THUNDER!

As you all know, I was somewhat aghast at the previous moniker “The Barons” since I really couldn’t understand why Bennett would want to name a team after current NBA All-Star, Baron Davis.

But, “The Thunder” was perfect. They must be naming the team after CHOCOLATE THUNDER--my main man, Daryl Dawkins!

Yet when reading the story there were no words about Dawkins’ history of ripping rims off of backboards, shattering glass, making Mike Gminski cry after calling him a "sissy" in practice. Nothing.

Instead, I was left to realize that those stupid, retarded, rich bastards are actually on the brink of giving an NBA franchise the name of a really, really bad and badly named U-10 soccer team.

I mean, sit at your desk and mouth to yourself as loud as you can “Go Thunder!”

How cool do you feel?

Next try saying with a bit of force, “Thunder rock!” Or “Lets Go, Thunder.” Or “We love Thunder!”

Horrible. Horrible. Horrible!.

But as if that name isn’t bad enough, and as if the NBA doesn’t stink enough as is, consider opposing city’s chants regarding their other lead possibility: “The Wind.”

Can you see the Headlines “Blazers Blow Out the Wind.” Or even worse, “Spurs Break Wind….”

Finally, the Best Person in the World award this week goes out to our own Coach Paul.

As many of you know, Coach Paul declared that while Rogers has the lead at QB at the moment, Lopina is right there and going to see action.

For those of you worried about a QB controversy, don’t fret a bit. Rogers is going to have a nice long leash.

BUT, Coach Paul’s statement does indicate that the days of seniors and nice guys getting “their due” is over. Instead, you can see that the re-culturing of our program is really taking hold and that better days are already upon us.

Hard to believe, but the season begins next week.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Rooster's Picks


This is a hard year to pick how the Pac-10 is going to end up. It seems like lots of big name players are coming off of injuries and you just can't tell if they can be counted on. Cal, UCLA and Oregon State are having a hard time picking their starting QB's at this time. Other than USC being a clear first place pick, the rest of the Pac-10 is going to be a battle and the outlook could totally change multiple times throughout the season with injuries to key personnel.

Anyway, as you'll see I took the time to go through every Pac-10 game and try to base my predictions on match-ups with a little consideration towards home field advantage, which part of the season the game is being played and I even hedged my bet on an injury or two.

Here they are in alphabetical order with some comments on each game:


Arizona

Wins: Stanford, UCLA, UW & Wazzu

Pac-10 record: 4-5

Breakdown:
UA vs. Stanford - Close game but UA's defense holds & Stanford's doesn't
UA vs. UCLA - UA takes advantage of UCLA's week secondary & offense
UA vs. UW - UA takes advantage of UW's week secondary - Defense bends but doesn't break against locker
UA vs. WSU - Cougs D is depleted by injuries at this point in the season - UA wins high scoring fest


Arizona State

Wins: Arizona, Stanford, UCLA, UW & Wazzu

Pac-10 record: 5-4

Breakdown:
ASU vs. UA - ASU defense holds Wildcats potent offense well enough that they can abuse UA's D with an almost equally potent offense.
ASU vs. Stanford - This game is way to early in the season for Pritchard to be ready to take advantage of his decent receiving corp. Stanford's D is able to keep this one from being a laugher though.
ASU vs. UCLA - UCLA's inexperienced O-line gets worked. ASU too strong on both sides of the ball for UCLA. Laugher.
ASU vs. UW - One guy on UW's D-line isn't enough to keep Carpenter from abusing UW's secondary. Locker runs past ASU's LB's occasionally but, just like last year, it isn't enough. Laugher.
ASU vs. WSU - With Cougs D depleted at this point in the season and ASU's Shaun DeWitty now feeling comfortable at running back the Cougs take a beating at Sun Devil Stadium. Laugher.


California

Wins: Arizona, ASU, Stanford, UCLA & UW

Pac-10 record: 5-4

Breakdown:
Cal vs. UA - Cal's strong secondary outmatches UA's offense even without pressure on Tuitama
Cal vs. ASU - Cal's linebackers and secondary handle ASU's passing attack. Without Herring, who aggravates his hip injury in the Georgia game the previous week, ASU has nothing to take advantage of Cal's week D-line. Cal upsets ASU by a field goal 3-0.
Cal vs. Stanford - If this game was at the beginning of the season I might give it to Stanford. Stanford returns a lot of guys on D but they were awful last year.
Cal vs. UCLA - Damn I don't know. UCLA's week O-line makes Cal's D-line look like hero's.
Cal vs. UW - Cal will come into this one with 6 or 7 wins on the line and playing for a bowl. Cal's O has enough to take care of UW's week D.


Oregon

Wins: Arizona, ASU, Cal, Stanford, UCLA, UW & Wazzu

Pac-10 record: 7-2

Breakdown:
Oregon vs. UA - Oregon's D shuts down UA & while their offense is good enough to beat UA by 2 touchdowns
Oregon vs. ASU - Oregon's D outmatches ASU's especially when UO's running back combo of Johnson and Blount take turns making ASU's linebackers look dumb. Oregon controls the ball and finishes up with a 10 point win.
Oregon vs. Cal - These two are actually pretty evenly matched but Cal, even though their young receivers are starting to figure things out at this point in the season, can't do enough against Oregon's D.
Oregon vs. Stanford - Stanford's D matches up pretty well against UO's O but Stanford won't be able to score on Oregon. Look for a 10 point win for Ducks.
Oregon vs. UCLA - UCLA's offensive line is going to lose a lot of games for them and this one is no exception. Laugher
Oregon vs. UW - First game of the season for both teams. Oregon's week spot is their receivers but they aren't as week as UW's secondary. UW takes a federal prison-esque type pounding in Autzen.
Oregon vs. Wazzu - Let's assume Wazzu is still healthy at this point. Wazzu's mediocre line matches up with UO's partially unproven O-line. Wazzu's secondary is a push against UO's receivers. Wazzu's O-line could potentially handle UO's D-line. With Wulf it's not a giver that Cougs will get out coached. Too bad that's just a dream but expect Wazzu to keep it close in Pullman.


Oregon State

Wins: Arizona, ASU, Cal, Oregon, Stanford & UW

Pac-10 Record: 6-3

Breakdown:
OSU vs. UA - Fortunately for Beavs UA has no proven running backs to take advantage of OSU's week linebacking corp.
OSU vs. ASU - Beav's are week at the linebacker position but ASU's O-line is their achilles heal. Still, Riley has his offense clicking at this point in the season and OSU moves the ball with short routes and a good O-line opening up an occasional hole for whomever may be running the ball
OSU vs. Cal - Like I said before Riley's offense will be going at this point in the season. Look for the Beav's strong O-line to be the key to this win at home.
OSU vs. Oregon - Beav's win this one in the trenches with a complete O-line out battling UO's D-line that has a couple question marks.
OSU vs. Stanford - First game of the year for both teams. Look for the Beav's inexperienced running backs to get a lot of carries right off the bat with BIG help from a good offensive line. Beav's eek this one out in Palo Alto.
OSU vs. UW - Pissed off after a loss to Wazzu, this will be the first game of a strong finish to the season for the Beav's. Again the Beav's O-line takes advantage of another lackluster D-line.


Stanford

Wins: Probably not

Pac-10: 0-9

Breakdown:
Stanford isn't going to be as bad 0 wins sounds


UCLA

Wins: OSU, Stanford, UW

Pac-10 record: 3-6

Breakdown:
UCLA vs. OSU - On paper this looks as even a matchup as any game in the Pac-10 this year so I'll say UCLA wins with the home field advantage.
UCLA vs. Stanford - Thanks to Stanfords suspect D-line, UCLA's bad O-line won't be a factor and Chow's offense will be affective.
UCLA vs. UW - Other than a push at UCLA's O-line against UW's D-line, UCLA out matches UW in every category.


USC

Wins: All

Pac-10 record: 9-0

Breakdown:
USC vs. UA - Without a good running back and an even offensive attack the Cats don't have a chance to score enough points to make up for their D that has no bright spots. Laugher.
USC vs. ASU - With Herring still out this game, with USC's nasty secondary and linebackers and with USC's running backs against ASU's slow linebackers this one is a comfortable win for USC.
USC vs. Cal - Any signs of improvement Cal's offense has made to this point in the season don't make a difference. Cal gets overwhelmed by USC's D.
USC vs. Oregon - Oregon just doesn't have the offensive weapons to pick apart USC's D.
USC vs. OSU - by no means will OSU's offense have it's act together at the 4th game of the season to be effective against USC's D.
USC vs. Stanford - Umm… you're not gonna see what you saw last year. This will be the same type of whooping that you would see if Don Imus showed up at a Public Enemy concert.
USC vs. UCLA - The matchup in this one point to what could be the first televised NCAA football game to have an R rating for violence.
USC vs. UW - Okay this beating will be similar to the one that Neuheisel would receive if he showed up to a Tyee Club meeting. I'm talking like a take the tennis balls off the walker type pounding.
USC vs. Wazzu - USC plays Ohio State, Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State before they play in Pullman. Their going to be tired. Wazzu will be rolling after beating UCLA and Oregon State... kidding. The only possible scenario where Wazzu wins this one is if USC decides it is worth a loss to get some rest, they forfeit the game and 35,000 fans in Martin Stadium watch Hawk and Hooty play each other on X-box on the new replay monitor.


U-Dub

Wins: Stanford

Pac-10 record: 1-8

Breakdown:
UW vs. Stanford - What the heck, I'll give UW a win here. Later in the season Stanford's D might come on but not before this game.


Wazzu

Wins: Cal, Beavs, Stanford, UCLA & UW

Pac-10 record: 5-4

Breakdown:
Wazzu vs. Cal - This early in the season WSU is healthy and their O-line controls Cal's young D-line and/or potential 3-4 scheme to help Rogers' effectively run the new offense.
Wazzu vs. OSU - Even though Wazzu's D-line will be severly outmatched by OSU's offensive line the Cougs offense will have a handle on the new scheme and will barely out score the Beavs in a track meet.
Wazzu vs. Stanford - Another game that Wazzu eeks out by putting a ton of points on the board.
Wazzu vs. UCLA - Cougs O-line neutralizes UCLA's strong D-line as Rogers and the new scheme take advantage of a, at this point in the season, young inexperienced secondary. Fortunately UCLA doesn't have an O-line that can over power a week Cougar D-line.
Wazzu vs. UW - I could possibly be gooching us here but I think this will be a repeat of last year's game. If you ask me sure the Cougar D-line is probably going to include some freshmen and JC guys at this point in the season but look for Ball and Sears to find a scheme to work around this fact. What should also prove helpful in regards to the Cougs D is that I have to imagine, whether told not to or he decides it on his own, Locker will not carry the ball every chance he gets. He has NO back-up and UW can't risk him getting hurt. If this is indeed the case the Cougar D can hold UW down long enough for the offense to make a mockery out of 1 defensive end, 1 linebacker and 1.5 DB's. It's Apple Cup though so expect your you know what to be puckered up right to the very end.


So doing the math here's how it looks from my analysis:


1) USC - 9-0

2) Oregon - 7-2

3) OSU - 6-3

4) Cal - 5-4

5) ASU - 5-4

6) Wazzu - 5-4

7) 'Zona - 4-5

8) UCLA - 3-6

9) UW - 1-8

10) Stanford - 0-9


Notice with the 5-4's I put Cal in 4th for their upset of ASU and Wazzu in 6th mostly because I let my bias get in the way of making a clear minded decision in a few instances.

I can't wait to read how crazy you guys think I am. I'll be reading that on Wednesday by the way because I'll be golfing all day tomorrow. But before you chime in please remember... this means nothing.







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If We Aren't the Spread....

Then what are we??

Coach Wulff made waves last week at the snooze-fest known as media day (and let's face it, there wasn't a whole lot of compelling stuff to come out of last Thursday, was there? Team looks good, worked hard all off-season, so-and-so is coming back from injury, blah blah blah). But the most talked-about nugget from Wulff was the mention that we aren't exactly a spread offense, but more a shotgun offense but with multiple looks, including the QB under center.

One of the most hailed things to come out of Wulff when he took the job was that he was installing a no-huddle, shotgun, spread offense. At least that's what everyone heard when he took the job....or was it?

The reality is, when Wulff took the job and was at the podium, he said no-huddle, he said shotgun, but he never actually spoke the words "spread". Why? Because his offense isn't the true definition of what that offense really is regarded around the NCAA landscape these days. A lot of people, including myself, instantly thought spread when we heard no-huddle shotgun, but that doesn't exactly fit what many people define a spread offense.

To see where I'm going with this, it's important to at least acknowledge what the hell the spread offense actually is defined these days. For a lot of teams out there have adopted different strategies and labeled it a form of the spread offense. Loosely put, the spread is basically "spreading" out your skill position players, getting them in one-on-one situations with the defense and getting your play-makers out in space. The general idea, offensively, is to create favorable match-ups. Spread out the defense, hit the mismatch and have some fun. That's what we see all over the country, and it's done in a variety of ways.

Texas Tech and Arizona have their version of the offense, where they aren't shy about at least chucking it 50 times a game. The run has very little to do with what they are trying to accomplish. But West Virginia calls itself the spread, yet they do it in a much more of a running style designed around the QB's legs. Kansas is in the shotgun read-option offense and was much more balanced in their scheme last year, as was Oklahoma State, where they strive for the 50-50 balance of run-to-pass ratio.

But I think what Wulff is getting at in terms of "don't call it the spread" is that we aren't going to be exclusively a spread, READ-OPTION offense that is all the rage right now. Don't think West Virginia or Okie State or even Oregon when you think our offense this year, because that isn't what we are going to see.

To keep it simple, a key idea of the spread read-option is to start the offensive play with the QB in a "read option" mode. The QB has a running back with him in the shotgun, gets the snap, and immediately keys on the defensive end on the side of the field where the running back has set up. Then the play goes from there based on what the defensive end is doing. If the end charges hard upfield, the QB can fake the hand-off and keep it himself (we saw a lot of this out of Jake Locker and UW last year in the Apple Cup, and you see it all the time with Tim Tebow at Florida). But if the d-end stays home, then the QB can choose to hand the ball off to the back and the play just goes from there. Or, the QB can fake the hand-off, and pull it out of there and throw the ball.

The trick here though is that it isn't the old wishbone option offense we used to see out of Oregon State, Oklahoma, or even the Rypien-Porter-Mayes offense of days gone by. Instead of everyone bunched up at the line and sometimes three backs in the backfield, it's a modern flare to it with WR's from sideline to sideline. The extra dimension of throwing the ball to multiple WR's is a big part of what the offense can do, making it a complete headache to defend beyond the old-school option.

The best example you will ever find is what Oregon did to UW last year. Dennis Dixon was in the zone that day, as the Duck O went for an unreal 465 yards RUSHING, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on 62 total rushing attempts. It was a clinic. In the shotgun, Dixon would get the snap and make his read. Either hand it to Stewart, keep the ball himself, or, uh-oh, he could pull it out of there and throw it to WR's running wide open, all game long. UW's EJ Savannah said after the game that not only could they not attack the Ducks and they were on their heels all game long, but half the time they had trouble figuring out who even had the football. It was a sight to behold.




Why profile this? Because this is NOT exactly the new WSU offense. Don't picture Gary Rogers doing things that Dennis Dixon did in that clip. This is an example of what is really thought of as the spread, read-option offense that is the rage today. But will we show some of the same sort of things? Occasionally, yes, we'll do some things that look like the read-option. But it is not exclusively the read-option spread compared to what others are running.

As you can see in the following clips in a game between EWU and BYU last year, you begin to understand what Wulff was getting at by describing the multiple approach. There are plays that show EWU doing all sorts of different things. Shotgun with read-option fakes or handoffs, yes, absolutely. But we also see the QB under center with one back, sometimes with double-tight ends, WR motion, the whole thing. There is even a play where the WR goes in motion and takes a handoff from the QB at around the 5:18 mark of the tape (might we see that out of Gibson this year??).



In the second half, you see more of the same, with more shotgun formations with two backs and some more WR motion. And as a bonus, if you like games played in the snow? Check out things beginning at the 6-minute mark. BRRRRRR!



I guess the point of all this is to understand what people think of as the spread, and what we are actually going to see. With Wulff and Todd Sturdy and the rest, anything and everything goes. As Wulff and Sturdy have said all along, expect a balanced attack out of a no-huddle scheme, with multiple formations. In the end, it will not be predictable, it will not be stale, and I think we can all be assured that it is going to be very entertaining to watch!

Now will it work? Hard to say. The no-huddle, multiple attack sounds good, but, we're not the first team in the Pac-10 to do it. Oregon for example runs a lot of no-huddle. So while the Pac-10 will be seeing some things that are fresh from WSU as we distance ourselves from the Erickson-Price one-back attack, it won't be as if we are doing things that nobody has ever seen before. And you can have the greatest offensive scheme of all-time, but, if you don't have the playmakers to go with it???......Well, you know.

Not a whole lot happening in Cougar Nation this week. It should be pretty quiet, but of course, things get rolling next week. We'll stay on top of the news, and our own Rooster might have something coming in the next few days, but this is another quiet time. Enjoy your Monday, and as always, GO COUGS. Read more ...plus comments

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pac-10 Media Day Musings

Hey, did you hear that USC is #1, but we're #10!?!
Uh, dude....#10 in the CONFERENCE.

Well, what do you know. USC #1? WSU #10? We call that a shocker (/sarcasm).

Anywho, lots of obvious fall-out from yesterday's media day festivities, so, we'll sift through it all and spin it in a Coug way for you.....

First, the results:

Points are on a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale, with total points in parentheses. First place votes are also listed:

USC (38 first-place votes)...389
Arizona State...330
Oregon...295
California (1)...274
UCLA... 204
Oregon State...192
Arizona...185
Washington... 139
Stanford...76
Washington State...61

Gasp. Yep, that's dead last alright. Some really quick thoughts for me were who the heck voted Cal a #1 vote? Bay area writers, looking in your direction.....ASU is a strong #2, and Oregon is right there at #3. I was also surprised at where UCLA was placed. Fifth after all those preseason injuries and attrition to the offensive line?? Fifth?? Oregon State 6th is about right, and even though they have lost so much on paper, you can almost see it coming that Riley is going to squeeze every ounce he can out of those kids. But I don't know about Arizona at #7. That seems a little low. When you break down the points, you can see they weren't that far behind the Beavs for #6. But there was a big drop down to UW, Stanford and of course, WSU. Funny thing - check out this year's Lindy's preseason mag. 1-10, the results are EXACTLY the same as the Pac-10 media guys. Any coincidence that some of the writers of Lindy's also happen to be Pac-10 beat writers as well? Nah....

For an overview straight outta ESPN, check out the video:









So should we just not show up? Is it time to just lay down, ring the bell that the sky has yes, begun falling, and that's all she wrote? Time to embrace our alien captors, and the like? Of COURSE NOT! For the media day is, simply, what it is. It's a poll of Pac-10 writers in terms of where they think the teams will finish, 1-10. And while they have usually been correct, they are not always right. In fact, the Pac-10 media poll has only predicted the top team 25 out of 47 total attempts. Is that all that impressive? That isn't picking the top two or three in the correct order, that's just picking the champion. It's better than 50%, but still, not exactly stellar in a run-off-to-Vegas-and-throw-down-the-mortgage way. And did you know that in 1997 WSU was picked seventh, and 2001, WSU was picked NINTH? We know what happened in 1997, the first Rose Bowl bid since the 1930 season, and in 2001 Gesser and company broke through in a major way to a 10-win, Sun Bowl winning season. So who the hell knows. But that said, there are some things to take from media day.

Wulff had some good things to say, spinning things in a positive light and that they are mainly just happy to get the season going after a draining off-season. There are a ton of links out there, and you know where to find them. But don't take my word for it. Coach Paul joined KJR's Ian Furness AND, get this - Jason Gesser stopped by the KJR studios and joined in on the conversation. It's a really good listen, so, click here and give it a shot. Note - give it a chance to load in your browser window, because it is worth it. Nice to hear Gesser, and again, Wulff had some good tidbits for your listening pleasure.

First, Wulff mentioned again about how the team will go out of it's way to get the ball to Brandon Gibson. They want to move him around and make it difficult for the opposition to focus in on just #4. In February at the football dinner in Seattle, Wulff slipped it into his stage time that they were looking to do all sorts of things to get him the football, including an off the cuff remark about "even handing him the ball". Hmm. You can just envision Gibson doing a ton of motion before the snap, just to cause a little havoc or confusion on the defense, but might he get handoffs out of the motion?? Maybe that's a big part of Gibson's decision to return to the program. I know he spoke with Ted Miller the other day and said he needed to work on some things before he goes pro, but, maybe another angle are the kinds of things Wulff, Todd Sturdy and Mike Levensellar are scheming right now to get him to have one of those all-WORLD type senior years?

It also sounds promising in regards to Dwight Tardy and, hopefully, Chris Ivory. While I don't think we envision true superstar ability in a Bo-Jackson type for either guy, as a two-headed monster they could be pretty good.

Wulff also mentioned the transfers in Ashley Jean-Jacques, Trever Mooney and in a bit of a mild surprise, WR Greg Walker. We knew about Jean-Jacques and Mooney, but, Walker wasn't one we heard about. Walker was a sophomore WR with decent size (6-3, 175) and I thought he might be in the mix this year for some solid PT, but oh well. Also interesting about Andy Roof, in that the team has done their part in his punishment, but it's all up to the school at this point. Given our lack of depth at the D-tackle spot, while Roof wouldn't likely be a star or anything, he sure could be a big body up front to help keep the interior o-linemen off our linebackers! We do have some JC linemen in Bernard Wolfgramm and Josh Juapo coming in to help out inside, but, as we know that first month of so of JC guys trying to break in can be a real eye-opener. So we'll see.

Finally, Wulff made it clear that our offense shouldn't be lumped into the "spread" offenses that we see all over the country. Yes, we'll be in the shotgun the majority of the time out of the no-huddle, but, we will have many different, multiple looks with the QB under center. We are not an official spread offense. We'll see how it all looks once the season arrives, but it sounds like an offense that is going to be all over the board in terms of what opposing defenses will see on a weekly basis. Being a "moving target" is a good thing, and hey, why not give the other guys something new to think about? I know from some of the EWU game tape I watched from last year via Comcast On-Demand, I saw nothing but shotgun, no-huddle. So maybe it was just a deal where the match-ups and tempo was so good that they stuck with it, but, it also sounds like things will be pretty flexible offensively.

That's about it from a WSU perspective. Again, media day is what it is. Take it with a boulder-sized grain of salt. For the beauty of it all is that, as always, the season isn't over in July. Things will once again be settled on the field.

Moving on, some quick items:

Thanks to our Cougar gal-pal Michelle for the link to the scoreboard web-cam. Have you see the progress? We've added an image from the webcam to the top of the site, so refresh your screen for the latest update. Here's a shot from how it looks on a glorious Friday morning in Pullman:

Starting to look like a scoreboard isn't it? While we aren't in a contest with Oregon State or Oregon to see "who's is bigger", well, our scoreboard will be just fine, thanks.

Finally, geek-alert - Have ya seen the new Batman?

We ventured out among the sweaty summer masses and caught it on Sunday.

But in a word: WOW. I know, I know, this is coming from someone who loved Batman Begins, and I had way-too-high expectations for this one....but I have to say it matched the hype, and then some. The reviews are right, it's an amazing movie. Bale's Batman is great, but Ledger, jeez. What a fantastic portrayal of the tortured, out-of-control maniac. He played it perfectly too. Not too much in a Jim Carrey, rapid-fire, in your face way of let's throw 1,000 jokes against the wall and see if any of them stick. Not over-crazy, yet not understated either. You actually think he's this character, you are never exactly sure what he's going to do next, and you never find a "roll your eyes" cheesy, overdone moment with him.

Words can't do it justice, so just do yourself a favor and go see it. While it's hard to say if he'll win the Oscar, it would be borderline-insane if Ledger isn't at least nominated for the role. And what a damn shame we'll never get to see him do it again, because he does leave you wanting much, much more.

ENJOY YOUR FRIDAY! Read more ...plus comments

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Predicting the Conference: Brinkhatertology

"Hey Lennie, when we're done with the Preview, do you think we can go pet some rabbits?"



Seasons Greetings to you, Cougar Nation and the rest of the Brinkhater Army! Hope you're all having a great week.

Well, if this Preview Week for the WSU Football Blog is titled "Of Mice and Men," then Sedihawk's and Hooty's two previews represent "The Men"

(AND this one's for you, Michele and Cougar Jen):


and I, Sir Alex Brinkhater (formely known as), represent the Mice.

So, for all you nibblers out there, this money-in-the-bank preview is for you!



Because my IQ is just above 86, I don't have the capacity to look at things real complex-like as the other Blogfathers.


However, as the past couple of seasons doth hath shown, I HAVE been able to use my limited faculties to develop a system that has kept established pros like the Evil Vince Grippy and Benedict Condotta scared and on their toes.


My system?

Well, I like to call it "Brinkhatertology."

However, for those of you Brinkhater-haters out there, you may refer to it simply as "stating the obvious."

So, without further ado, here is the framework I've employed to see the Forrest from the Trees.


Brinkhater-tology Principle Numero Uno:"In order to win games, you have to score more points than the other team."

(Its an amazing and profound fact when you really think about it!)


So, here is how I've squeezed all 12 of my braincells around the first (and ONLY) component of my methodology:




"In order to score more than the other team, you can do a couple of things:

1) Stop The Other Team From Scoring
2) Score A Lot Yourself
3) Stop the Other Team from scoring AND Score A LOT Yourself. "

(Are you feeling the genius yet, y'all???)



So, with the above all in mind, I have broken out my anal-y-sis into four neat little categories:

1) Teams that can score and stop
2) Teams that can stop, but not score
3) Teams that can score, but not stop
4) Teams that can neither score nor stop.

For this preview, each Crap-10 team is slated under a specific category and in rank order for that category.

You should also know that Brinkhater believes that defense ultimately wins more games over the course of a season, so I've tried to rank teams with better defenses ahead of ones that I believe are effectively "more worse."

TEAMS that CAN score and Stop.

1) USC. Not much surprise here. I will say, however, that I'm not totally sold on this Sanchez kid. If he hadn't gotten invaluable experience last year--most notably the Oregon game--I'd be pretty shaky on SC as an absolute shoe-in for the conference title.

While SC has shown itself to ALWAYS be the best 10-2 team of all time when they get to 2 losses, its REAL easy to overlook the fact that the ONLY first year SC QB to lead SC to a National Title was Matty L and even he lost a conference game that year. In the end, SC's Defense will be too much for other teams to overcome.

2) ASU. Lots of experience at both the QB position and on defense. ASU is a bonafide contender for the conference this year, but don't be surprised if they fall off if things don't go well early. For me, ASU has HUGE potential to make the BCS, but they also carry enough of a bandit quality that they can accomplish a complete nose dive if the team falls off their own lofty expectations early in the season.

Teams that CAN stop but CAN'T Score

1) Oregon. I know that all you quackers out there are going to rail at the notion that your offense will be slowed this year. But in reponse, I want you all to remember that part of a Duck's duty is to stick its butt up in the air for a little bit every now and then.


While the Defense may lead the Quack to a Top 2 finish this year, Oregon teams typically hit mediocrity in the face (over the course of a season) without established leadership on offense. And, as I've not-so-jokingly noted here before, the quit and fold factor is SO huge for all Belotti coached teams.

Granted, I think that Oregon has a real chance to contend, but a 7-5 type year is also a real possibility for this crew. Simply put, I'm not sure you can lose a Heisman winner (which Dixon would have been sans injury) and a first round RB and not drop off no matter how talented you think you are.

2) UCLA. New coach. Two elite coordinators--one of which is returning as the BEST D-Coordinator in the conference. The Bruins D is going to be stingy at times, while the offense will be absolutely atrocious. In fact, I peg them as the WORST offense in the conference.

IF UCLA finishes mid- or upper- division this year it will be because the Defense creates turnovers and the special teams are lights out. Don't count on it.

Teams that CAN score but CAN'T Stop

1) Arizona. This team is the darkhorse of the conference. On paper, you have ALL of this returning talent on an offense that was Brink-like explosive: LOTS of YARDS, very few points. In fact, the Mildcats ranked #56 last year in scoring offense. So, while Brinkhater loves their ability to move the ball between the 20's, real questions remain as to whether or not they will be able to score. IF they are able to solve their redzone woes, and IF their young defense improves during their cupcake non-conference, then this team will be REALLY good. IF not, Stoops will not have to worry about Stooping any lower.

2) WSU. This is where I differ from all the other pundits. As discussed last week, the general sentiment is that this offense will be as bad as our defense (maybe, the worst ever if injuries hit the line). I, on the other hand, think that the offense is going to be great. And when you factor in that there are going to be several teams that will have a REAL tough time scoring a lot of points--even against us--then you have a case for a middle-of-the-road finish.

I think our red-zone production is going to be solid in terms of generating TDs given Rogers' arm strength and I think our improved kicking game will mean more points and improved field position. That said, if Rogers sputters as others (NOT ME) have predicted, then this team falls near the bottom of the following list--and real fast. Remember, our defense threatens to be historically bad.

Teams that CAN NOT do anything (really) well:

1) Oregon State. Call me Cwazy, but I don't see anything bright about the Beavs this year (yes, Stroughter is good, but that ain't enough to overcome poor QB play and ALL of your losses on defense). But, the Beavs DO have the most moxy of ANY team in the conference over the last two years. In my view, this is the obvious "down year" for the Beavs. If they don't fall way off, then we will truly know that Riley has built the OSU program into who and what WE as Cougars want to become in the next five years.



2) Washington. Word to Cougar fans: NEXT year the Huskies will finish top 3 in the conference and, barring injury, Jake the Snake will finish in the Top 2 in the Heisman race. But this year, I just don't see it. Locker will be lucky to walk out of Autzen following the season opener. While I think that this kid IS special now, I see no weapons beyond his line to help him out. And that, my friends, won't translate into points. And ya, the D is improved, but could it be any worse? Not a lot of points, they'll score less than 22 a game, and no winning seasons in an entire generation. HOLD YOUR NOSE, Montlake. You should've fired Ty when you had the chance.

3) Stanford. I love Captain Comeback. And I love Pritchard's moxy. But this team will stink this year. Are they a winless bunch? Probably not, but a 1-8 or 2-7 finish sure looks to be "in the Cards."

The "I DUNNO" Category:
1) CAL. What can you say? The oft-injured Nate Longshore has a TON of big game experience. Gregory has done a really nice job with the D, and Tedford is a really, really good coach. At the same time, despite having ALL the talent in the world the past couple of years, CAL has not been able to knock down the door.

That said, perhaps Longshore takes a final step forward this year a la Clemens did with the Quack a few years back? If so, the Bears may be really good! But, if they struggle to move the ball like the second half of last year, then a Week 2 loss to WSU is possible. And if that happens, bring out the life boats on the rest of the Bears' season.



Predicted Order of Finish:

1) USC
2) Oregon (yep the D is that good)
3) Arizona State
4) Arizona (a good offseason helps to iron out rough spots in last year's new offense)
5) CAL (Dunno what to do? Sit squarely on the fence!)
6) Washington State (It'll be a nice set up for when we REALLY finish 10th--next year)
7) Oregon State
8) UCLA
9) Washington (I see no scenario where Locker makes it past week 7)
10) Stanford

Give us your thoughts and enjoy the rest of your week!

Read more ...plus comments

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

133 Reasons to Love the Pac-10

Greetings Cougies.

With summer flying by and only 40 DAYS until the Cougs and the rest of the Pac-10 kick of the 2008 season, I thought we’d take a peek at how the conference schedules look this year.
There are a couple things that jump out at me when I look at the 2008 Pac-10 schedule. First is that the non-conference schedules are looking tougher than in years past. That’s not to say that every school’s schedule is loaded with tough matchups – there are still some real softies on tap – but overall, I’d say the Pac-10 has stepped up the level of non-con competition.

From a purely Coug perspective, I also see that not only is WSU the only Pac-10 team with 13 regular season games, but we’re also one of only two conference teams (Stanford is the other) with only one bye-week. First of all, where was the 13th game during the Brink era? Seems to me that another easy ‘W’ or two over the last four years would have put us in at least one bowl game…

An astonishing SIX Pac-10 teams – all with a 12-game schedule – have THREE bye-weeks, yet we’re running our boys through a 13-game season with only one week off? I don’t get it. Three teams play an 8-week stretch with no bye. WSU and Stanford open up the season with eight straight; and USC plays eight in a row after they start the season with two games in the first four weeks. Oh yeah, these guys are supposed to go to school and get good grades too. No problem…

Based on my scientific formula involving eye-balling the schedule after five Kokanees, here’s how I rank the Pac-10 school schedules from easiest to toughest, with a few observations about each teams’ biggest games thrown in for good measure…

10) Arizona. UofA probably has the softest non-con schedule in the Pac this year, opening up with Idaho and Toledo at home, before traveling to Albuquerque to face the Lobos. They also get most of their tough conference games at home (Cal, USC, OSU and ASU).
The Wildcats have a VERY good chance at starting off their season 6-0 before facing Cal at home on October 18th. If they can get past the Golden Bears - which is also very doable – it will set up a huge game with USC before they finish out their schedule with four games in the last six weeks. With an offense that’s looking like it could be a juggernaut, Uof A could be poised for a huge year and a victory over USC would make them a legitimate BCS candidate, despite their weak non-con schedule.

Other big games: @ Oregon on 11/17; and vs. ASU on 12/6. (WSU 11/8, in Pullman)

9) Stanford. The Smart Kids start off with two conference games (Beavs at home followed by a trip to Tempe on 9/6 before a pretty soft 4-game stretch featuring TCU, San Jose St, UW and Notre Dame. If the plucky Cardinal can manage a victory in one of the first two, they could very-well parlay that start into a respectable season – especially considering the fact that they get tough conference games vs. OSU, UofA, and USC at home this year.

After knocking USC out of the National Title game last year, their matchup against the Trojans in Palo Alto on 11/15 will be interesting. Can they hold serve or will they get steam-rolled?

Despite the USC plotline, the key game to their season looks to be their matchup @ Notre Dame on 10/4. The Irish will surely be a motivated team this year, so a win on the road in South Bend could give Stanford the confidence they need to make it through their last six conference games with some fight.

Other Big Games: @Oregon on 11/8; and @ Cal on 11/22. (WSU 11/1, in Palo Alto)

8) Cal. We’re already splitting hairs on who has the weakest schedule because in all fairness, Cal’s schedule is not soft by any stretch. They go out of conference against the Big 10 and the ACC – but it’s Michigan State and Maryland that they’ll face off against – certainly not the best those two conferences have to offer. The non-con schedule is capped off by Colorado State.

Cal is one of the aforementioned 3-bye-week teams so they lose toughness points for that. They get MSU, ASU and Oregon at home. Cal has the look of a middle-of-the-Pac team to me, so the games vs. MSU and at Maryland should actually be very competitive from a matchup standpoint.

After last year’s second-half nose-dive, the one way Cal can get voters back in their corner is with a big win over ASU at home on 10/4. This will be especially true if they manage to win their first four games – and if ASU can beat UGA on 9/20. This would set up an early-season matchup of unbeatens. Even if this scenario does not come to pass, this game shapes up as Cal’s first big test of the year.

Other Big Games: @UofA on 10/17; @USC on 11/8; and @OSU on 11/15. (WSU 9/6, in Pullman)

7) Washington State. The Cougs score big points for 13 games in 14 weeks. Not many teams can (or should have to) pull that off. The toughest non-con game appears to be the opener in Seattle against Oklahoma State but trips to Baylor and Hawaii won’t be gimmes either. Portland State at home on 9/20 (my birthday, by the way…) is the one slam-dunk on the Cougs’ schedule this year. Five of nine conference games will be played in Martin Stadium, including tough ones against Oregon, USC and UofA.
For a team with hopes of a BCS Bowl game at the end of the year, it’s always best to lose a game early as opposed to dropping one late in the season. The Cougs don’t fall into that category this year, so in my opinion, no game is bigger than the first game of the Paul Wulff regime. With hopefully 60,000+ Cougar fans packed into noisy Qwest Field in Seattle, the Cougs and Coach Wulff have a tremendous opportunity to “announce their presence with authority.” A victory over Oklahoma State would provide a huge shot of confidence to the team, the university administration, and the boosters.

Other Big Games: vs. Oregon on 9/27; vs. USC on 10/18; and @ Hawaii on 11/29 (is this our “Bowl Game”?)

6) Arizona State. Despite the fact that the Sun Devils once again have scheduled Mrs. McBoob’s Alma Mater, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, as well as UNLV this year, their non-conference schedule gets a big boost from their huge matchup with Georgia on 9/20. Three bye-weeks make up for the fact that they go on the road for five conference games, including USC and UofA.

I’d venture to guess that ASU will be picked #2 in most of the pre-season Pac-10 polls, so their matchup with the Trojans on 10/11 in Compton could very well be THE game of the year in the Pac-10. With both teams playing HUGE non-conference games before they meet, this game could also have National Championship -let alone Pac-10 title - implications.

Other Big Games: @OSU on 11/15 (Erickson returns to yet another of his former whistle stops): and @ UoA on 12/6. (WSU 11/15, in Tempe)

5) Oregon State. A trip to Happy Valley to play Penn State on 9/6 is the highlight of the Beaver’s non-con schedule. They’ll also battle Hawaii at home and Utah in Salt Lake City. Their schedule is almost ideal in terms of bye-week placement. They have a progressive build-up: Three weeks on; one week off; four weeks on; one week off; and then 5 weeks on to finish the year.

What could be one of the more entertaining games of the year is the 9/25 home date against USC. The Beavs start out with two on the road before taking on Hawaii for their first home game of the year – hardly an opponent to get real excited about. That game is followed by an off-week, so the team and their fans should be ready to explode on a Thursday night when the Trojans come calling.

Of course, if the young Beavers are not yet ready for prime time, the biggest and most important game on their schedule will be their last – against the Ducks in Corvalis on 11/29. This has been an extraordinarily entertaining series to watch over the last several years and with both teams fighting for likely bowl berths, it won’t disappoint.

Other Big Games: vs. ASU on 11/1; and @ UofA on 11/22. (WSU 10/11, in Corvalis)

4) Oregon. The Fightin’ Phil Knights’ non-conference schedule includes Utah St., Purdue and Boise State. While they have to travel to a possibly steamy Lafayette, IN to face the Boilermakers on 9/13, they get the other two at home. Five of their conference games are on the road, including key matchups against USC and ASU, as well as the Civil War against OSU.

If the Ducks are to remain among the conference elite this year, they’re going to have to earn it – and it should be entertaining to watch. They start off the season with seven-straight games before their first of two byes. The week off is well-timed, as they travel the following week (10/25) to Tempe for a big game against the Sun Devils. If they’re able to get through the first seven games at no worse than 5-2 and then pull off an upset in the desert, they’ll be in great shape. They’ll have to avoid a letdown the following week at Cal before what should be a bit of a grudge-match against UofA in Autzen. They then get another bye before the Civil War on 11/29 in Bean Dip Stadium.

Other Big Games: @UW on 8/30. (WSU 9/27, in Pullman)

3) UCLA. I’m ranking UCLA this high based on a very tough opening three weeks of non-conference games. They have Fresno State and Tennessee at home, followed by a trip to Provo to face BYU. Their conference schedule is a pretty even split with tough games on the road against UofA, OSU and USC; and roadies at Oregon, Cal and ASU.

With their major injury concerns, UCLA could be in for a tough few weeks to start the season. After their first three, they get a bye before opening up Pac-10 play with Arizona in Pasadena. If they make it to that bye-week without adding to their injury woes, they have a chance to get healthy and score a big win that would be a great way to start off their conference schedule.
The Bruins’ 12/6 matchup with USC is the game that I’m keeping my eye on late in the year. UCLA may not yet have the horses to run with the Trojans, but Neuheisel should have his team fired up.

Other Big Games: @ Oregon on 10/11; and @ASU on 11/28. (WSU 10/4, in Pasadena)

2) USC. As if they needed the help, USC is another one of the Pac-10’s 3-bye-week teams. They actually ease into the season, with each of their first two games followed by a week off. Of course, when those first two games include an opening week 6-hour flight to Virginia and a possible #1 vs. #2 matchup with Ohio State, perhaps they’ll have earned the rest.

The battle vs. the Buckeyes is one of the most anticipated matchups in all of college football this year. The winner of that game will be an immediate favorite for the National Title game. Of course, even though the loser will have no more room for error, this game will be played early enough in the season that they could still rebound for a shot at the national championship if the stars align.

While this is obviously the most important game on USC’s schedule, if you’re a fan of the Pac-10, you also have to be wringing your hands, waiting for the first contest between Handsome Pete and Slick Rick. Call it Ego Bowl I. As much as I love to hate these two, there’s no denying the fact that Neuheisel’s presence in Westwood will breathe some life back into what has become a very stale rivalry.

Other Big Games: vs.ASU on 10/11; @UofA on 10/25; and vs. Notre Dame on 11/29. (WSU 10/18, in Pullman)

1) Washington. If the puppies are anything but 0-3 heading into their week 4 bye, it’ll be reason for celebration on Montlake. A trip to Autzen Stadium is no way to start your year – especially if you’re a despised rival. That game is followed by tough non-conference games at home vs. BYU and Oklahoma. UW also gets Notre Dame at home on 10/25, arguably rounding out one of the tougher non-conference schedules in the nation, let alone the Pac-10. The conference schedule doesn’t get any easier, as there are trips to Arizona, USC, Pullman and Cal on tap.

If there’s a swing game on the UW schedule, it’s their matchup with Oregon State in Seattle on 10/18. This game follows the second of two early-season bye-weeks, which follows a tough trip to face UofA in Tucson. If they win this one, they may have a chance at respectability. If they lose, their chances for a six-win bowl-eligible season are likely gone.

Other Big Games: @USC on 11/1; and @Cal on 12/6. (WSU 11/22, in WINTERY Pullman)

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Top 10 Games of 2008 – Pac-10 Style

1) Ohio State at USC. 9/13. Early-season game with major implications on the National Championship. Simply put: the NCAA needs these types of games in order for the BCS to work.

2) Georgia at Arizona State. 9/20. Another early-season, non-conference matchup of likely top-10 teams. This is one of those “How legit is the Pac-10?” games. If the Sun Devils and Trojans can win these first two games, it will give the conference two top-5 teams and the spotlight will be shining on the west coast for the rest of the fall.

3) USC at UCLA. 12/6. There are definitely more important games, with bigger conference and national implications but if you’re a fan of the Pac-10, you should be champing at the bit for this one. Ego Bowl I is hopefully just the first of many battles between Pete Carroll and Rick Neuheisel in La-La Land. Nothing would be better for the conference and west-coast football in general, than a return to significance for the UCLA program and a bitter, heated rivalry between these two schools.

4) USC at Arizona. 10/25. I believe this will be a matchup of 7-0 Uof A and 6-0 USC. This will be the 5th conference game for both schools and the winner will hold their own destiny on the way to the conference championship.

5) Arizona State at USC. 10/11. I want to believe that this will be a great game but I have a hard time buying stock in ASU. I think they’ll lose to Georgia which will actually provide a lot more motivation for Erickson and Co. A second loss in their first six games would mean that they’d have to run the table for a BCS bid and they’ll still have six conference games to get through after this one. If the Devils are for real, the outcome of this game will have a huge impact on the national and conference landscape. If not, they’re just another Pac-9 team, and USC is in a league of their own.

6) Arizona State at Arizona. 12/6. This will be the game that decides 1st place in the Pac-9 (second place in the Pac-10) this year. I’ve never really paid much attention to this rivalry and I’m sure that’s pretty much the case for anyone outside the state of Arizona - but it will mean something this year and should be a shootout. This will be the closest thing to an arena league score as you’ll ever see on grass.
7) Oregon at Oregon St. 11/29. This game has become the conference’s best in-state rivalry game over the last several years and is always entertaining. This year, I expect a middle-of-the-Pac OSU team gunning to knock the Ducks out of Sun Bowl contention.

8) USC at Oregon State. 9/25. This is the first conference game for both teams. The thing I love about it is that it’ll be played on a Thursday night, which should make for a liquored-up crowd and rowdy atmosphere in Corvalis. If the Beavers can ride the emotion and energy generated by their fans and stay close, it could be very interesting.

9) Arizona at Oregon. 11/15. There’s no better game day atmosphere in the Pac-10 than Autzen Stadium, and Arizona will be the biggest test for the Ducks in Eugene this year.

10) Oklahoma State at Washington State. 8/30. Obviously, this is the homer in me but this is a very big game for WSU and Oklahoma State. The Cowboys and their fans are undoubtedly counting this game in the win column already so they really can’t afford to lose it. The Cougs on the other hand, are embarking on the first season of a rebuilding process and expectations are relatively low. A loss would surprise no one but a victory in Paul Wulff’s first game as head coach would be monumental.
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