Bears on the Rise; Harbaugh's Hot Seat; Reggie's Return
Four weeks into the 2019 football season, the Pac-12 is down to one unbeaten team.
No, not Oregon. The Ducks blew a 21-6 lead and lost to Auburn. No, not Washington. The Huskies lost to Cal after a two-and-a-half hour rain delay. No, not WSU. The Cougs found a way to blow a 49-17 lead to hapless UCLA. No, not Utah. The Utes can’t seem to win in the LA Coliseum. No, not USC. The Trojans lost to BYU in OT. No, not Stanford. The Cardinal offense has disappeared, scoring five offensive touchdowns in four games.
So, the only unbeaten team in the Pac-12 is…drumroll please, the Cal Bears!
Cal started the season off with three straight wins for the third year in a row, gaining enough respect to move to No. 23 in the national rankings. Yet many skeptics were unimpressed, pointing to the fact that two of the wins came against non-power five opponents UC Davis and North Texas.
Old Blues noted that Davis is one of the best teams in the FCS sub-division and that UNT has been a bowl team for the last three years.
Well, last Saturday the Bears proved they were legit by winning a road game against a tough SEC opponent, beating Mississippi 28-20.
The big news was the emergence of the Cal passing game. Coach Justin Wilcox's defense, led by All-American Evan Weaver, and a strong running game with Marcel Yancy and Christopher Brown, Jr., had carried the load the first three games. But quarterback Chase Garbers was brilliant against Ole Miss, throwing for 357 yards and four touchdowns.
The next two weeks will determine whether the Bears, who have moved up to No. 15, are a middle of the Pac team or a contender for the North Division title. They host Arizona State this weekend in what promises to be a bruising, low-scoring game, then travel to Oregon to face the Ducks' high-powered offense.
The last time the Bears and Sun Devils met back in 2016, the final year of the defenseless Sonny Dykes era, ASU scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to win 51-41. That won’t happen again. And if Garbers can hold his own against projected NFL first-round pick Justin Herbert, the Bears have a chance in Eugene.
Exciting times in Berkeley.
Misery at Michigan: We thought this might be the year Jim Harbaugh's Michigan team finally got over the Ohio State hump.
Instead, the program appears to be regressing. Wisconsin crushed the Wolverines 35-14 Saturday in a game that the Badgers led 35-0 late in the fourth quarter. Michigan could do nothing offensively, rushing 19 times for 40 yards. Wisconsin, by contrast, gained 359 yards on the ground.
Another problem is that highly-touted quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred from Mississippi when that program went on probation, hasn't delivered.
This will be Harbaugh's fifth straight season without a Big Ten title, and the natives are getting restless.
Full Circle: One of the truly ironic moments in college football history took place Friday night in the LA Coliseum involving USC Trojan great Reggie Bush, winner of the 2005 Heisman Trophy (since vacated).
Because of Bush's involvement in a scandal that triggered an NCAA investigation and severe (some thought excessive) penalties against the USC football program, the school has had to officially "disassociate" itself with Bush. He isn't permitted on campus, his Heisman doesn't appear in the Heritage Hall football museum, and he can't be involved in recruiting. It's almost like he never existed.
But everyone at USC knows and respects him, including the football players.
Bush has retired from the NFL and is now a member of the Fox broadcasting team. He was assigned to Friday night's game, and because of the NCAA penalty, the network had to get USC's approval for Bush to attend.
The Fox studio booth was set up behind one of the end zones. Late in the game, Trojan running back Markese Stepp scored what turned out to be the game-clinching touchdown and as he ran into the end zone, pointed to Bush, who was standing behind the end line cheering, and handed him the ball. (So much for announcer's being objective. Another ex-Trojan broadcaster, Matt Leinert, was also cheering wildly).
This celebration was apparently too much for the Pac-12 officiating crew, who penalized the Trojans for unsportsmanlike conduct.
NYT Discovers Pac-12: Last week the New York Times wrote a blistering critique of the Pac-12 Conference and embattled commissioner Larry Scott. The Times was late to the party, as there was nothing new or surprising in the piece. Many Pac-12 observers, including this one, have been chronicling Scott’s litany of failure for some time.
But a hit piece in the New York Times is a serious blow to both the conference and to Scott’s increasingly tattered reputation. I’m sure the Presidents and Chancellors took note.
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 has virtually no chance of getting a team in the College Football Playoff this year, and the revenue gap with the other Power Five Conferences continues to widen.