I posted some pre-season thoughts on what could be looming for college football teams in the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences this season. So, after a month of actual play on the field, and keeping in mind that two thirds of the season are yet to unfold, how do things look?
Impressive: Oregon, the team that would appear to be due for a letdown or some bad breaks, looks as good as ever. The Ducks are 4-0, and the way they recovered from a third-quarter deficit against Michigan State to blow past the defending Rose Bowl champions 46-27 was awe inspiring. Next big test is Oct. 11 at UCLA.
Depressive: Stanford’s offense. QB Kevin Hogan continues to struggle by shamefully not being Andrew Luck. The nerve of him. But on top of his occasional turnovers or third-down misfires, the young offensive line is frequently breaking down with penalties. The Cardinal takes nearly every drive into enemy territory, but more often than not, they fail to score.
Best Team Outside Oregon: Stanford. Yes, despite the above, the Cardinal has the league’s best (only?) defense and the young offensive line will grow up and take the pressure off Hogan and the new running backs. They lost to USC, but could have beaten the Trojans by three touchdowns.
Great Quarterbacking: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is obvious. The guy people need to know about is Connor Halliday of Washington State, who has already thrown 20 TD passes and 2,300-plus yards, and has kept an otherwise mediocre team in contention in most games. Arizona’s Amu Soloman is throwing for 363 yards a game as a freshman and pulled off one of the more improbable comebacks in years to beat Cal on a Hail Mary pass. QB Jared Goff of the Bears has been nearly as good as a sophomore.
Questions Mostly Answered: The big questions were which teams would push for national championship playoff positions and how the Washington-USC coaching shuffle would play out. After one month, it still looks like the Oregon-UCLA winner will have an inside track to a playoff berth and, barring subsequent losses, the loser might still be able to pull out a bid in the Pac-12 title game. It looks like USC has righted the ship with Steve Sarkisian as head coach. The jury remains out on his replacement, Chris Peterson, after his decision-making backfired in Saturday’s 20-13 loss to Stanford. In his defense, though, the Huskies offense was going nowhere, so he had to at least try to win the game.
Interesting Upcoming Game: Along with that clash between the Ducks and Bruins, keep an eye on Arizona-USC the same day. Trojans already have two Pac-12 wins.
Impressive: Colorado State is the league’s most accomplished team, the only one to defeat two power conference teams in Colorado and Boston College. You can do the whole BC beat USC, which beat Stanford kind of thing for kicks. This program was building but came into this season having to find some replacement parts in the trenches. The new players have stepped up, apparently. A loss at Boise hurts, though.
Depressive: Teams in this league have to be at full strength to beat power conference opponents, but injuries have hurt. Last weekend, UNLV included 31 players on its injury list, including a really good WR, Devante Davis. San Diego State lost the league’s best wideout, Ezell Ruffin and three top linebackers and will now be without QB Quinn Kaehler for at least one week. Hawaii is now without bruising RB Joey Iosefa, who carries the load nearly by himself because the passing attack isn’t much. By the way, the mark vs. power conferences this year was 4-16.
Best Team Other Than Colorado State: San Diego State. No other program in the conference would withstand the Aztecs’ injury siege. SDSU wouldn’t have been able to a few years ago, either. The Aztecs have the league’s best offensive line, star RB Donnell Pumphrey and a disruptive defense and might survive until they return to health. Helping is that the kicking game, so poor in 2013, is actually an asset this year.
Really Good Placekicking: Yes, you have to dig deep to come up with positives for the MW this season, but when the kickers line up for field goals and extra points, the odds are in their favor. Hawaii’s Tyler Hadden has made 10 of 11 tries, Will Conant of Air Force is six of seven and Donny Hageman of SDSU is five of six. A few others with less attempts are also looking solid.
Questions Answered: It didn’t take long for the two major pre-season questions to be answered — will any team be strong enough to get an invite to a New Year’s bowl game, and will Boise State remain relevant. The answers are no and no.
Interesting Upcoming Games: SDSU will limp into Fresno to face a struggling Bulldogs team that should be — but for the Aztecs injuries — ripe for the taking. Kaehler’s replacement, true freshman Nick Bawden, has been hyped for a strong arm and knowledge of the offense. Desperate Boise State will play at Nevada the next night.