Hello Followers. Hope you are having a great week.
Before we get to the post of the New Century, I would like to first give a shout out to my good friend and colleague, Vincent Grippi.
As you all know, Vince's wife just started treatment for Breast Cancer. Of course, our thoughts and prayers are with you and her, Vince.
But, on top of that, let's recap the trials and tribulations of Mr. Grippi's life over the past couple of years: Terrible personal health problems (which included emergency surgery and hospitalization on the East Coast); the passing of his dear father; constant threats of job loss; and finally, the announcement of "retirement." Simply put, its people like Vince who get up and go to work 7 days a week in spite of going through personal hell and trauma that make this country what it is: GREAT.
So, keep chugging, Vince and Kim, knowing that all of Cougar Nation is behind you in both thought and spirit.
Now, onto my one-of-a-kind (cough! cough!) season preview....
Followers, for the past couple of years, I have given you my game-by-game outlook right before the season starts, allowing you to experience, if for but an instant, what it is like to be a leader of the Cosmos....
So,in year one, I gave a simple "Hope or Nope" label to characterize our team's chances each week. Then, last year, I came up with a few guiding principles which, at least for me, helped me hone in on our prospects of moving toward a .500 or better season.
And, because I liked that formula so much, I'm going to use it again this year.
So, let's re-visit those ever-so-fine principles, shall we?:
Key “Determining” Factors:
When you looksy at the pre-season Top 10 (who are thought to be your National Title Contenders), it is easy to see what they all have in common: They are not only incredibly talented, they also have schedules that are viewed as “highly favorable.”
What this means in practical terms is as follows: When you evaluate the shedules of these top teams, you usually circle one, maybe two games, which you think that they could lose. Otherwise, its all money in the bank.
Meanwhile, teams that are typically ranked 11-25 in the pre-season also tend to have similar profiles regarding schedule favor-ability. They have several games on their schedule that they “should win”, a few games that should be “contested”, and maybe, in some cases, a few games that are “winnable" -- e.g. games that a team could win if everything goes right. Of course, these teams have one or less games on their schedule that are games where, all else equal, they really have no shot (e.g. they'll win if and only when "hell freezes over.")
So, let's look at how my little formula played out last year for our main rivals, the Defeateds of the University of Washington.
(For me, the Dawgs represent a good case study, since like us this year, the Dawgs entered LAST YEAR's campaing with the hope of ending a near ten year bowl drought.)
In the "should win" category, I had the following FIVE games: Washington State, Syracuse, Arizona State, CAL, and UCLA. They won four of those games.
In the “contested” category, I had the following games: USC, Oregon State, Nebraska, BYU, Stanford, and Arizona. They won two out of these four games, while losing to Stanford, Arizona, and Nebraska (reg. season) in blowout fashion.
Finally, I had the Oregon game as a big fat NOPE--when hell freezes over--for them. And of course, a "NOPE" game it was.
So, again, let's take a look at that "formula" from an outsider's perspective:
At season's start, they appeared to have five games relatively in the bag, 6 which appeared to be hotly contested, and one that looked like a big fat, stinkin’ NOPE! But all in all, the expectation was for them to be right in every single game. And, as we saw last year, that’s what you need to break through to a bowl game.
So, where our Cougs are concerned, well, when you look at our last decent season (2007), we won five games. We won the two “shouldas” on our schedule (San Diego State and Idaho) and three of our seven games that we thought we would be contested at the beginning of the season (Washington, Stanford, & UCLA). So, with that in mind, you have my general formula. In order to sniff bowl eligibility, you really have to be in at least 75% of your games in order to have a realistic shot at sniffing bowl eligibility.
Now, can we reach that clip this year? Lets take a look at how our schedule stacks up with that criteria in mind:
Game1 - Idaho State
Should Win. Don't want to give you my game 1 prediction too early, but if this isn't a redux of our 45-6 beatdown of Portland State a few years ago, I don't know what is.
Game 2 - UNLV
Should win. Count me of the mind that HOW that this game is won will greatly help determine the direction of the season. If we win big, then I think that we can all sit up and take notice that this team may be on its way to mirroring the fortunes of the 1992 season (which saved Mike Price and started the momentum toward the 1997 miracle, by the way).
However, if we win narrowly, well, that should be big grounds for concern.
On top of that, consider the week 2 performances in the Paul Wulff era: A 66-3 beatdown by CAL, the Hawaii humiliation, and a disasterous 1 point win against Montana State that almost ended Wulff's tenure last year.
Toward that end, Bill Doba always said that the greatest indicator of a team's progress and potential comes between Weeks 1 and 2. This year, we'll see what direction this team is headed in a game we absolutely CANNOT afford to lose.
Game3 - @San Diego State.
Contested. Those of you who read SeanHawk's one-of-a-kind fishwraps in the Spring know that San Diego State is NOT going to be a pushover. In fact, a case could be made that the Aztecs represent a real darkhorse contender for the Mountain West. Moreover, when you peek at Michigan's current #1 standing in the 2011-2012 recruiting rankings, you know that Brady Hoke did NOT leave the cupboard bare in So-Cal. The man can recruit as well as he can coach.
Nothwithstanding the potential of the Aztecs, this also is a game that we should be in--at least through three quarters. And, as you'll see later on in this post, I think that this game is HUGE for our season/post-season fortunes.
Game 4 - @Colorado.
Should Win. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made on a homer blog like this one is to underestimate the talent and fortures of a team that went 5-7 in a pretty good power conference last year. However, in this case, context rules the day:
Colorado has a terrible secondary and their visit to Columbus the week before coupled with our bye week makes this a game that we should win. Again, if this team is a bowl team, this is a MUST WIN GAME!
Game 5 - @UCLA.
Contested. At this point, UCLA is like a box of chocolates: You just don't know what you gonna get. On one hand, you have this vaunted defense that COULD be really something out there each week. On the other, that D includes many of the same characters that we lit up last year without any sort of running game. On the offensive side, the Bruins have a stable of running backs and quarterbacks that look lethal at times--see Texas the week before us last year. On the other hand, the Bruins have a stable of quarterbacks that look lethal at times--see the HORRIBLE offensive display against the Defeateds last year. All in all, this is a game that we should be in, but until we beat Ricky at anything, I am not ready to count this as "should win" type of game.
Winnable. "And it was here, on this date, that all credibility died for the Coug-A-Sutra and the WSU Football Blog." Okay, so maybe I am WWWWWAAAYYYY off on this one. But, please remember, this is a home game. And, we really don't know how all of the question marks (receivers, coaching) for Stanford are going to come together. My point here is simple: IF everything goes right for us here, we could win. But, that doesn't mean that we should expect this game to be in play in the fourth quarter.
Game 7-Oregon State (Seattle)
Should Win. Since the offseason began, I have been pretty optimistic that we would finally end our two-year streak of Pac-10/Pac-12 cellar dwelling status.
Well, up until fall camp, I found little reason to get excited about the 2011-2012 prospects of either CAL or Oregon State.
BUT, as the off-season has faded and fall camp has begun, I have found myself becoming MUCH more concerned about CAL. And I mean MUCH more concerned.
In contrast, Oregon State is currently doing NOTHING for me. So, while I still fear that Mr. Ryan Katz is going to show me and the world that I have no idea what I'm talking about come our October tilt, the Beavs look dressed up to me right now as your Pac-12 North bottom feeder.
This is a game that I think we will win handily (like by 6).
Game 8-@ Oregon.
When Hell Freezes Over. On the road against a team that will still be fighting for a pathway back into the National Title discussion (I think they lose to LSU). Of course, we're playing on the road, we won't be able to hear jack squat, and that offense is going to run all stinking over us. Nuff said.
Game 9 - @CAL.
Winnable. Granted, I could be drinking WAY too much of the Berkeley Kool-Aid right now, but this game has me in knots right now. Big, fast, furious defense with schemes that ALWAYS give us fits, combined with a group of skill players who are big, fast, as well as big and fast. Mind you, if we play lights out (and especially if they tank early in this season), this is a game that we could,and perhaps, should win. But honestly, for us to win this game, we're going to have to be healthy and perfect.
And I don't think either is going to happen, especially since I currently think CAL is going to overtake Washington for third in the North (pending their game in Seattle at the end of September)
Game 10 - Arizona State.
Contested. Another really, really tough game to call. On one hand, you have an ASU team that, one month ago, was as talented defensively as anyone in the country. What's more, the team also seemed to have found a quarterback that could sling the ball around like Dennis-the-Menace truly likes it.
Of course, fast forward one month and we see a team that is riddle by injuries, some internal decent, and with regard the quarterback position--one has to wonder, "what happens if the Big O returns to 2009 form or goes down during the season?"
Furthermore, when you factor in that this game is in Pullman, IN NOVEMBER..... well, recent history suggests that doesn't bode well for Sun Devil teams. Expect this one to go down to the wire, even if ASU winds up pulliing this one out.
Game 11 - Utah
Contested. Again, tough to predict an outcome when you don't know what team you are going to be playing. Similar to Arizona--who I think has the HARDEST opening schedule in the country--we're going to learn a lot about the Utes starting about Week 2. Win on the road against SC, and you can put Utah on a fast-track toward a Pac-12 title game. Lose that one and this team could be in shambles by the time they hit Pullman.
Ultimately, what stands out for me is Utah's overall lack of physicality. And for me, that means that while we might get run around in this one, I don't think we'll get pushed around. And ultimately, that sets the stage for a high, flying shoot-out that we should be in until the end.
Finally, Game 12 - @Washington.
Contested. Ah, the Pac-12 North, where everyone outside of Oregon and Stanford has a good shot of finishing 3rd-6th. Where will the Huskies finish? Well, I'm thinking third or fourth (increasingly, I'm thinking fourth). But, that all hinges on solid quarterback play. And so, if the Dawgs turn up weak at that key position, you have to wonder whether or not they'll be able to score enought to make up for that skakey LB corps. Like the Utah game before, this one should be a bit of a shootout. I'm looking at a 35-28 game that will, like last year, be fitting for an Apple Cup.
So, when you look at our schedule, we have:
FOUR games that we should win;
5 games that figure to be contested or highly contested affairs;
2 games that we won’t win but could if EVERYTHING went right;
And 1 games that we simply are NOT going to win unless Hell Freezes Over.
Thus, pursuant to my formula above, in order to become bowl Eligible, we would need to be in 75% of our games--at least on paper.
And,like the Muttlakes the year before, this team figures to be just that: A borderline bowl-eligible team.
Now, will be get there this year?
My answer right now is "NO."
As of this writing, I have us winning all four of the "should win" contests on our schedule, and I think that we'll be able to sneak out one other conference game that falls into the "Contested" category.
But, as I wrote last week, part of my belief is that this team is going to need to put A LOT of points up on the board each week to win. And frankly, outside of the two conferences games noted above (OSU and Colorado), I don't see how that is going to happen--not because we won't be good, but because scoring a lot of points is REALLY hard to do.
So, put me in the camp calling for FIVE WINS in the 2011-2012 campaign, with a low of 3 wins and an upside of 8. Moreover, put me in the camp that says that the outcomes of Weeks 2 and 3 mean everything for this team: A big win in Week 2 will signal a change in tide for the program, and a win in Week 3 will enable this team to really move some heads this year--and by move some heads--I'm talking 8 or 9 wins.
In the meantime, with ten days left in training camp, lets just try to remain healthy. Cuz this team is going to need to show up in a big way in the season's first quarter.
Lets GO COUGS!!!!