UPDATE 8.22.13 5:20 Central: Hey everyone, this is technically Part I of II of a OTE/PT Exchange. Once you read this and talk about all things Pac 12, go over to their site here and talk about all things B1G. You can then openly mock me for my lack of football watching and obviously wrong answers to everything in the world. Thank you for your cooperation. On to the article.
Like all great cliche couplings - Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter and Chocolate, Peanut Butter & Banana, etc. - the B1G and the Pac 12 have a long history of working together and playing against each other. This year, the Pac 12 will showdown with the good guys five times with Cal hosting Northwestern and Ohio State, Arizona State hosting Wisconsin, Washington traveling to Illinois, and UCLA traveling to Nebraska. So, like any great enterprising blog-type person would do, I reached out to our counterparts at Pacific Takes and asked them to participate in a little Q and A. Jack Follman was kind enough to take time to answer five - you know because there are five games and all - questions I had about this year's Pac 12 and the matchups we'll see. We even threw in a bonus bowl question in honor of the Rose Bowl. Enjoy!
1) Let's start this off easy. For those of us who aren't quite in the know, what is your early season prognosis for the Pac 12 in general? Who is your early front runner for champion? Anybody a real national title contender in your mind? Do you think the Pac 12 gets the respect it deserves at this point?
I think this is going to be a very strong year for the Pac-12 as it is brimming with as much experience and talent as I can ever remember and there are nine or ten teams I could see going to a bowl game with two legitimate national title contenders. My early front runner is Oregon with a tiny advantage over Stanford. I think both are national title contenders as long as they don't knock each other out or slip up and get upset. Right now I think that the conference gets the respect that it deserves, as I think it is generally considered one of the best conferences after the SEC at this point, and that is about where it should be.
2) So this next questions is kind of an issue for me. In the past, the Pac 12 has really felt like it has an advantage in evening and night games on the West Coast wit teams from the Eastern Time Zone, and even the Central, playing much later than their internal clocks are used to. While it would be disingenuous to blame this fact alone on the reason for some sluggish games by B1G teams in the past, it does feel like it plays a part. This year, UCLA will be playing Nebraska in an 11:00 Central game, which will be a bright and early start for the Bruins. Am I crazy to think that this will affect the outcome at all? Historically, have you seen a trend among Pac 12 teams to play differently depending on the time of game and the location? Can you at least humor me a bit and say UCLA has zero chance and will forfeit from oversleeping?
I would say that this is in fact a small factor in these things, but would say that it helps and hurts you at the same time if you are a Pac-12 team. A Pac-12 will get an advantage of having a Big Ten team play out here later than they are usual, but they will be hurt by playing very early road games at Big Ten teams. For example, I remember a game in 2002 where Washington kicked off at Michigan at 9 a.m. and I think that is a huge disadvantage. I think that time could very much affect UCLA. As they will be starting a game at 8 a.m. their time, and starting prep even earlier.
3) It seems to me that the entirety of the Pac 12 coaching landscape has changed in the past two years. While obviously, it's not quite that intensive, teams are either fielding coaches who are either brand new, Sonny Dykes at Cal, or running out second year guys like Todd Graham at Arizona State and Jim Mora Jr. at UCLA. What should Big Ten fans expect to see from these coaches? Obviously there is a little familiarity for the Year 2 guys, but a lot happens when a coach has had some time to develop his system better. On a sidenote, there are six Pac 12 coaches either new to the conference or in Year 2 overall. Is that a positive or negative to the overall talent of the conference?
With the second year guys, I would expect to see more of what they did in their first year, but probably more intensely – WSU will keep airing it out more under Leach, the Bruins will get even tougher under Mora, the Wildcats faster under Rodriguez and the Sun Devils more disciplined under Graham. For the first year guys, they will most likely try to instill what they were doing at their previous job, but the question is whether or not that will be effective. Other than Mark Helfrich at Oregon, I think all of the first year coaches are in very tough situations, and it might be a couple of years before we fully see what they can do. Generally I don’t think instability at coaching positions in conferences is a good thing, but I think that with how successful most recent hires have been (David Shaw, Jim Mora, Todd Graham, Rich Rodriguez), it is okay. I think the conference is moving from a lot of the old blood type coaches (Jeff Tedford, Rick Neuheisel, Dennis Erickson, Mike Stoops), and to a new school, and with how fast the game moves now, I think that will be a good thing.
4) There is only one matchup that features the same Pac 12 team twice: Cal. I've seen that Dykes will be installing the Bear Raid to help, you know, make Cal less awful. What should we expect to see from these guys? Is this offense going to succeed or are we looking at a real growth period this year? Furthermore, are there any players on Cal's lineup that we will really know when this is all said and done?
There is a lot of potential for Cal to go back to being a contender if the Bear Raid starts without a hitch, but that is a massive if. I think high-speed offenses like the one that Dykes will install at Cal are the most dangerous in football right now, but I just don’t know if the Bears have the personnel at quarterback right now, and that has seemed to be their main problem since Aaron Rodgers left. It sounds like true freshman Jared Goff is going to be the starter, so I’m thinking it will be a growth period for them, especially in their first and third games of the season against very good defenses in Northwestern and Ohio State. With that said, the Bears do have a lot of talent on offense at every spot other than quarterback and I wouldn’t be surprised if running back Brendan Bigelow follows up on his breakout game against Ohio State last year and one of the sophomore receivers, Chris Harper or Bryce Treggs, emerges as a go-to target.
5) Okay, last question and it's going to have a few parts. First, tell me which of the matchups you are most looking forward to. Then, tell me the players that Big Ten fans should watch out for most when their teams lineup against the Pac 12. Finally, go ahead and call the games.
Tough question, but I will go with UCLA at Nebraska because it’s probably the most marquee and evenly matched and I think it will be a massive ruler for the Bruins under Mora, much like last season’s game was. I’ll highlight three players to watch out for outside of the superstar guys that everyone already knows like Anthony Barr, Will Sutton and Brett Hundley – keep an eye on Arizona State’s sneaky dual-threat quarterback Taylor Kelly and pass-catching running back Marion Grice, Washington’s prolific, but underrated running back Bishop Sankey, and UCLA’s tackling machine at linebacker Eric Kendricks who plays in the shadow of Barr.
Calling the games…
Northwestern 24 Cal 21
Nebraska 38 UCLA 34
Washington 28 Illinois 20
Ohio State 35 Cal 23
Arizona State 33 Wisconsin 31
BOWL SEASON QUESTIONS: B1G fans are kind of fond of the Rose Bowl. In fact, that's probably an understatement. With clamoring for change across the entire landscape of football, it seems like this is one tradition that has been able to be sort of preserved. What is the general sentiment in Pac 12 country? Are your fans happy with the resistance to change and insistence on tradition? Do you see any scenario where the Pac 12 ceases to work with the B1G in keeping this awesome tradition alive?
The Pac-12 is the same as the Big Ten with our adoration for the Rose Bowl, and I think every school’s fans really hope they can keep preserving the traditional format of the game. I think in general, Pac-12 fans like to see progression in college football, but the Rose Bowl is one category where they do not want to. I could see this changing as soon as 2014 though as I think the playoff system will likely change up the BCS bowls due to the fact that I think the Pac-12 and Big Ten will almost always have teams in it and it will be hard to maintain the traditional match-up and BCS bowl format.
Special thanks again to Jack and Pacific Takes. If you haven't already checked them out, you probably should! There will be a Part II of this series as I agreed to answer some of their questions out as well. Go to www.pacifictakes.com and talk B1G/Pac 12 with us!