Pac-12 Roundup, Stanford Opens Up, Empty Seats, Coaching Busts, CFP Rankings, World Series
These are crazy times in Pac-12 football.
We wrote last week about the unlikely leaders in the conference—Washington State and Utah.
Well, Saturday’s games only solidified the status of both teams.
Utah blasted UCLA, 41-10. The win marked the Utes’ fourth straight over a conference opponent and their fourth straight with over 40 points. They now sit all alone in first place in the Pac-12 South with a 4-2 record (6-2 overall).
Meanwhile, Washington State beat Stanford in an entertaining thriller, 41-38. The Cougs lead the North with a 4-1 conference mark (7-1 overall) and moved up to No. 10 in the national rankings.
It’s beginning to look more and more like the Nov. 30 Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium will feature none of the teams expected to challenge for the conference title at the beginning of the season—Washington, Stanford, Oregon, USC or Arizona.
No one will say this publicly, but conference officials and TV moguls are probably losing sleep over the possibility of a poorly-attended, low-rated WSU vs. Utah championship game.
Airing It Out: Speaking of Stanford, a lot of fans and media, including this humble blogger, had recommended that the Cardinal throw early and often against WSU. Well, coach David Shaw agreed, calling nine passes in the Cardinal’s first 10 offensive plays and utilizing a pass-first, no huddle offense throughout the game.
QB C.J. Costello was outstanding, completing 34 of 43 throws for 323 yards and four touchdowns. Problem was, WSU’s Gardner Minshew II was even better. Minshew completed 19 straight passes in the second half and ended up 40 for 50 for 438 yards and 3 TDs. Neither quarterback threw an interception.
The Stanford players apparently were quite pleased by the change in offensive strategy.
“They (the coaching staff) called on me early to get us in a rhythm,” Costello said, “and I think we all answered it. It’s a great feeling going forward with that…”
“I really liked that plan,” said senior center Jesse Burkett, “and I hope we can continue to execute it going forward.”
So does every Stanford fan.
Un-coverable: Eight games into the season and Stanford receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside has caught 11 touchdown passes. The stat is impressive, but what’s even more impressive is that JJ is routinely manhandled by opposing defensive backs. In the last two games, he’s drawn six pass interference penalties!
Empty Stands: It was homecoming weekend at Stanford, and the game matched the No. 14 and No. 24 ranked teams in the country. The visiting Cougars featured the nation’s top passing offense. Kickoff time was a fan-friendly 4:00. The weather was beautiful.
Yet the stands were less than half full.
We’ve written in the past about Stanford’s onerous seating policy, adopted last year, which requires four-figure donations to secure sideline seats. That has chased thousands of fans. Many (including me) departed last season, despite a terrific home schedule. This year, with a less attractive home slate, thousands more renounced their season tickets.
Another school with an attendance problem is USC. The hallowed Trojans are under-achieving in 2018, with a 4-4 record, including a 38-35 loss to Arizona State last Saturday. Coach Clay Helton is under fire, and fans are staying away in droves. The ASU game had an announced attendance of 47,406, the Trojans’ smallest home crowd in 17 years.
Big Name Busts: Several big-name first-year coaches are struggling, including former Oregon/Philadelphia Eagles/49ers coach Chip Kelly at UCLA (2-6), former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin at Arizona (4-5), and former Western Kentucky/Oregon coach Willie Taggart at Florida State (4-4). Not to mention former Louisville/Atlanta Falcons/Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino in his second stint at Louisville (2-6).
Frankly, there is a sense of guilty pleasure in the failings of Taggart and Petrino.
The peripatetic Taggart is on his third job in three years, having departed from Oregon after one year, and famously flying to the Florida State interview in the private jet he had demanded in Eugene. His Seminoles have looked utterly disorganized and undisciplined throughout the 2018 season, lowlighted by a 52-10 loss to Clemson Saturday.
Petrino, of course, shamelessly left the Falcons in the middle of the 2007 season to bolt for Arkansas, where he was later fired for lying about a motorcycle incident and an affair with an athletic department staffer. He was rehired at Louisville, where apparently morals don’t matter (see Rick Pitino and Louisville basketball).
Last weekend, Petrino’s Cardinals were thrashed by Wake Forest, 56-35. Deliciously, Wake running back Matt Colburn, whose Louisville scholarship offer was yanked by Petrino with 48 hours to go before signing day, rushed for 243 yards.
Herm Revisited: Like most folks, we criticized Arizona State’s hiring of Herm Edwards, who’d been out of coaching for almost 10 years and hadn’t coached college ball for over 30. Yet his motivational and recruiting skills are paying off. It’s too early to render final judgment, but the Sun Devils are 4-4, with wins over USC and Michigan State and a number of close losses.
CFP Rankings: Today the first College Football Playoff Selection Committee rankings will be unveiled. Our best guess: 1) Alabama, 2) Clemson, 3) LSU, 4) Notre Dame, 5) Michigan.
Red Sox in Five: No surprise that the Boston Red Sox defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games to win their fourth World Series in the last 15 years. Truth be told, the best four teams in baseball are in the American League—the Sox, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees.