In 2019, it can be easy to write off the Pac 12. Between various Larry Scott absurdities, an incredibly inept USC Trojan program with probably a lame-duck coach, no real talk about the CFP, and whatever it is Oregon State does, you forget that this is the Pac 12! The iconic conference with USC and UCLA, Stanford and Cal, Oregon and... well Washington and Washington State.
Sadly, when it came time to think about the conference, it felt sort of hollow. To figure out what is happening, we brought in longtime friend of OTE, Jack Follman of Pacific Takes, to discuss what is causing all this hand wringing, whether or not there is some good football left, why Larry Scott sucks, and how our B1G teams fare this year. Take a gander, and give Jack and the team at Pacific Takes a follow!
(1) Hello (mostly) West Coast Friends. It’s been a long time since we last checked in with you. In that time it feels like, well, I don’t know how to put this. Well, it feels like the Pac 12 has just been kind of quiet. Sure, maybe it’s because USC is gearing up to hire Urban Meyer and this is the way to do it, but regardless, it feels like there isn’t any real buzz out West. What has caused this apathy towards the Pac 12? Is it strictly a cyclical downturn in football or is something more?
Jack Follman: I at first thought it was just your typical cyclical college football transition, but I fear it’s deeper and larger than that and a cultural and regional problem that’s not going to go anywhere. Yes, USC being down hurts, but the truth is they won a Rose Bowl three years ago and a Pac-12 Championship two years ago and it still didn’t feel like anyone cared. Coupled with that is the lack of emergence of other elite teams. Oregon and Stanford slid back down and Washington rose up, but not enough to win big games. The Pac-12 lacks big fish.
Now, we’re seeing a mass exodus of elite recruits from Pac-12 country. Almost all of the 5-star and high-4-star recruits are going to the SEC and Big 10 and it’s going to really hurt down the road. Why are they leaving? Because there’s a mostly-accurate perception that the Pac-12 region doesn’t care enough about football and won’t give players the exposure and competition the SEC/Big 10 can.
Along with that, the West Coast seems to be producing fewer and fewer elite prospects, especially along the lines, and high school/youth football is less and less prominent out here.
(2) There seems to be a real deep trepidation by many in the Pac 12 that Larry Scott might not be the best commissioner. While it’s not like the Pac 12 is lacking in money, it does seem to be slipping behind the SEC and B1G at a pretty incredible pace. Are you at all concerned with how things are going? Is the PR hit that Scott and his regime is taking fair, or is he doing a better job internally than it seems externally?
JF: Deeply concerned. Most of which can be drawn from my last answer, but Scott isn’t helping in the least and any PR shots he takes is very fair. Some of it comes from typical hypocritical CEO stuff in regards to pay, benefits, and behavior, but the hard truth is the Pac-12 has never been so consistently down in football and basketball and he has a hand in that. One of the biggest and easiest issues to fix is in-conference scheduling. The Pac-12 has seemed to not only do their own teams no favors and almost seems to go out of their way to set up traps for their elite teams year in and year out that keeps the conference from competing on the highest level.
(3) Ok ok, it feels like we’re not talking enough about football. So tell me about what the Pac 12 is shaping up for. Is Chip Kelly for real at UCLA? Is this the year that Kyle Whittingham and his Utes take the crown? Can Oregon succeed like it has in the past under Cristobal? Is Urban Meyer actually going to get the USC job? So many questions, but they generally boil down to this. Who is good and who is bad? Tell us the major storylines and players going into 2019 as you see fit.
I really liked what UCLA did as the season progressed last year and I like the direction they’re heading. I don’t think I’d call Kelly the real deal yet. I think he might end up like he was with the Eagles, a good, but not great coach, whose system isn’t as revolutionary as it once was.
I don’t think Whittingham can get past Washington again. The Huskies to me are still basically Utah, but with better talent and a little more offense.
Oregon will be solid under Cristobal this year, but they’re not going to replicate the success they had in the early-2010s. I think they could be what they were under Mike Bellotti though – a good team that has some nice talent pieces brought in because of the Nike marketing machine, that can win the Pac-12 any year and compete for a national title every once in a while.
I just don’t see Urban Meyer ending up at USC. The Trojans have been horrible at picking head coaches post-Pete Carroll and I wonder if Meyer’s connections to sanctions and controversy would be a bad fit for a program that’s still trying to shake off the issues of their past sanctions.
Okay, the good – Washington as long as they reload the way we think they should be. The crown should still be there’s and someone will have to take it from them.
Utah is the top team that could steal the crown. Their defense should be ultra tough again and they just gotta find some offense to go around running back Zack Moss and stay healthy.
This is the year Oregon has building up for. They have a ton of three/four-year starters and Justin Herbert back. They might not be as strong as the national media has them built out to be though. Pac-12 fans have watched their personnel be above-average the past couple of years.
Oregon State is the only bad team and there’s a huge pack of teams that are average to above average again.
Big storylines - rapid fire – How long can Clay Helton survive at USC? Can Justin Herbert breakthrough and be a legit Heisman candidate and lead Oregon back to glory? Will Georgia/former 5-star transfer Jacob Eason be the QB that pushes Washington to the next level? Is this the year that Utah breaks through and wins the Pac-12?
(4) The Big Ten has three Pac 12 opponents on the slate this year. Northwestern goes to Palo Alto to take on Stanford, Nebraska travels to Boulder to take on the Buffs, and Michigan State hosts Arizona State in East Lansing. At a high level, what should we expect from these three teams this season? Any players we should keep our eyes on early? Will any of these three teams be important down the stretch?
Stanford might actually be the conference’s best at QB with KJ Costello, an underrated leader, and I think the Cardinal will be a Lite version of the teams we have seen in the recent past. They play tough, have a big offensive line, run a lot, and some talent and size on defense, but they’re simply not elite anymore.
Colorado should have a lot of energy with a coaching change and they have some nice pieces, namely, receiver Laviska Shenault, who might be the nation’s best player at any position, if healthy, and senior QB Steven Montez who has good size and athleticism. Overall, they are definitely a work in progress though.
Arizona State is doing a quick rebuild in Herm Edwards’ senior year as they lose a lot of starters, including their QB and stud WR N’Keal Harry. They’re starting a blue chip true freshman at QB Jayden Daniels who should at least be very exciting, but overall, they probably only have the talent and experience to be above-average at best.
Stanford is the only of these teams I think is good enough to be in the championship chase if they can fill the voids of Bryce Love and JJ Arcega-Whiteside and improve their defense. None of which I think they’ll be able to do.
(5) Ok, bottom line, what’s your predictions here? Does the Pac 12 win all the games against our B1G teams? None of the games? Bonus points for giving me four playoff teams because that’s where we’re gonna land this thing.
I think Stanford wins a close one against Northwestern. Colorado loses a close one to Nebraska and Michigan State grinds out a 14ish-point win over Michigan State.
I’m sad how predictable I feel the CFP is. I’m going Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and Georgia.
Huge thanks to Jack again! If you’re jonesing for some previews, a podcast featuring Chuck Klosterman, or just general knowledge on what’s happening in the Pac 12, head over to Pacific Takes and give it a read.