Gekko File: A Retrospective (PAC 12 South)

A little past the halfway point of the season is a good time to review the prognostications of the Gekko File and see how well the races were predicted.

Over the course of the long, hot summer, yours truly dove deep into the Gekko Files in an attempt to educate you all on exactly how the season was going to play out. This was a service provided by me to you primarily to enable you to get wealthy through the flexing of your sports betting muscle in Vegas, but also for your general entertainment. Now that we are halfway through the season, it is a good time to look back and see how well things are going relative to the bold forecasts contained within those files. Let's take it team by team, shall we?

1. USC (Link to Gekko File Entry)

Recap:

Like many others, I predicted USC to be the ultimate champion of the Pac 12 South. Unlike many others, I predicted the division to be hotly contested and I highlighted my concerns with USC's defensive line, their LT and their still young, albeit talented, linebacking corps.

What I Said:

This is a 9-3 type season in the works and I can see USC holding on (maybe a little more close of a race than people think) with the key games being their matchups with Oregon and Utah. That said, I don't see USC as a serious contender for the National Title because a) I think they are not deep enough, b) I don't think their schedule is as favorable as some others and c) I don't think they are nearly as good as Oregon.

(by the way, USC fans ripped me pretty hard for this statement).

What Has Transpired:

While the play of the USC defensive line has been a tremendous bright spot, the struggles at LT and the inconsistencies in the back half of their defense have made a talented team mortal. Layer in the boneheadedness that typically accompanies a young team (and accentuated by a Lane Kiffin coaching job) as evidenced by the penalties and turnovers, and USC is pretty much where I expected them to be: in favorable position to win the P12 South, but well out of the National Championship discussion.

What Has Surprised:

While the prowess of the D-Line has surprised, the biggest surprise is that the A#1 Heisman candidate from the roster is not Matt Barkley but Marqise Lee. In fact, it is looking more and more debatable as to whether or not Barkley made the right decision to come back purely on a draft positioning basis (I'm sure he's enjoying his senior year and will enjoy the post season). The Trojans and Barkley still have a chance to make a statement with the remainder of the season including games (possibly two) against Oregon and Notre Dame, so we shall see.

2. Utah (Link to Gekko File Entry)

Recap:

Based on the quality of the head coach and the stoutness of the Utah Defense, I prognosticated Utah to finish #2 in the PAC 12 South in a close race with UCLA (including a victory over the Bruins in their mid-season showdown).

What I Said:

I really struggled with this pick. When I look at the Utes, I see a team with an exceptional head coach, with a stellar D and with size on the offensive line. I also see a team that is now a very veteran unit and one that happens to play the easiest Pac 12 schedule that money can buy. But I also see a team that is relatively weak at QB (sorry, guys, I don't see any reason to think that even a healthy Jordan Wynn is any better than the #10 QB in the conference) and one that is taking a huge risk on a 25 year old offensive coordinator (which just seems just bat-shit crazy...I was 25 once upon a time).

What Has Transpired:

While the defense has held up relatively well, it has not performed at an elite level (see the USC game). On the flip side, the offense has been epically bad as Jordan Wynn has been forced into retirement and the lack of depth at QB has been thoroughly exposed. In addition, the Brian Johnson experiment as the new OC has been widely panned by the fanbase. That said, Utah is coming off a really convincing win over Cal and their freshman QB, Travis Wilson, is starting to gain some confidence. If John White and DeVonte Christopher can start stringing together some playmaking, they can put it back together and close strong.

What Has Surprised:

The biggest surprise to me with the Utes so far this season is the poor play of the offensive line. Coming into it, they were one of the more seasoned and veteran units of the PAC 12 despite the losses of their tackles to graduation, including the stellar Tony Bergstrom. To date, their QBs are taking a lot of hits and John White is finding too little room to rush.

3. UCLA (Link to Gekko File Entry)

Recap:

The Gekko File predicted a tight #3 finish in a neck and neck race with Utah. The key observation back then was that there was tremendous talent recruited to UCLA by Rick Neuheisel that included Brett Hundley, Joseph Fauria and Johnathan Franklin. Layer in a solid left side of the O-Line with an accomplished OC in Noel Mazzone, and we predicted a 7 to 8 win season for the Bruins.

What I Said:

I was tempted to call UCLA my #2 team in the South. In the end, I like the stability of Utah a little bit more and I expect UCLA to experience some bumps in the road with the new coaching staff. Thus, I'm going to call it a seven win season ... maybe eight ... and a solid first step for the newly remodeled UCLA Bruins.

What Has Transpired:

Jim Mora has gone from being the most panned new coaching hire in the history of the PAC 12 (of course, Bear Bryant himself could have been hired and the boys at Bruins Nation would have still revolted) to the "right guy at the right time". Mora dialed up the intensity around the program, recruited some stellar assistants and installed a new belief system in the program that has clearly had an impact with the players and the fans. UCLA is off to a nice start, including a big win over Utah, and is poised to challenge USC in the race for the South.

What Has Surprised:

The rapid progress of Brett Hundley under Noel Mazzone could not have been predicted to turn out as good as it has as early as it has by any reasonable observer. Hundley is clearly one of the three best QBs in the conference right now in terms of total game and he still has so much more development to endure. He's a stud and he's the engine driving the Bruins Bus.

4. Arizona (Link to Gekko File Entry)

Recap:

The Gekko File was intrigued with the fit of RichRod in an offense that was bringing back key contributors like Matt Scott (who Husky fans were already well acquainted with) and Ka'Deem Carey (who we called at the time a "dynamic sophomore back who figures to flourish in the RichRod system"). However, I was equally as unimpressed with the defense of the Wildcats and figured that they'd give back as many points as the offense earned them. Thus a prediction of a near .500 record.

What I Said:

Despite my doom and gloom, Arizona has some good opportunities in 2012.... Rich Rod and Scott, by themselves, are enough to pull out two wins that might not otherwise be there. In addition, the Wildcat schedule is heavy with home games, despite the presence of some tough out of conference competition. Their three non-conference games are Toledo, OK State, and South Carolina State all at home. Their Pac 12 schedule gives them home field advantage in games that they figure they'll have a chance at including Washington, Arizona State, Colorado and Oregon State. Their key road games are trips to Oregon, Stanford and UCLA.

What Has Transpired:

Arizona has lived up to form and maybe exceeded expectations to date. For sure, they opened eyes with the win over OK State and the blowout versus Washington. Matt Scott has emerged as the most productive QB in the PAC so far this year and Carey has been a top three back. The Defense is still a source of major concern and has played poorly in all games except Washington. We've also seen Oregon paint a blue print that more physical defensive teams can duplicate to slow down the Arizona attack (they had a three game losing streak to Oregon State, Stanford and Oregon). While they are certain to usurp Utah in my predictions, I'm not sure they are destined to finish higher than seven wins. They are clearly the most mysterious team in the South.

What Has Surprised:

The offensive line of the Wildcats was not forecasted to be all that good this season. However, as of this writing, Arizona is a respectable 34th nationally in sacks allowed and 35th in yards/rush - both impressive numbers for a team that is #6 in the nation in total passing attempts. You have to give this offensive line, and the Arizona coaching staff, credit for these kinds of stats.

#5. Arizona State (Link to Gekko File Entry)

Recap:

While acknowledging the presence of the absolute best party scene in all of the PAC 12, the Gekko File was not optimistic about the prospects for the Sun Devils coming into the season. With uncertainty at QB, an awkwardly hired new coaching staff, and the turnover of some key star pieces (including the mercurial Vontaze "Crazy Pills" Burfict - my nickname for him), it looked like a transition year in Tempe.

What I Said:

I think ASU still has some attractive talent and it is hard not to believe that Todd Graham, as maligned as he has been, isn't a good fit for that environment. However, I see a lot of growing pains in the near future as this team adapts to a new staff, breaks in a new QB, and replaces key veterans in the secondary at receiver. The schedule won't do them a lot of favors as they play both Illinois AND Missouri in the first three weeks of the season...I still see this as a four, maybe five, win football team this season. Look for the Devils to struggle making Graham's offense click in the first half of the season and expect them to completely under-utilize their stud RB. On the flip-side, don't be surprised if the D bounces back...

What Has Transpired:

Arizona State got out of the gate in a fast way showing that the new discipline installed by Coach Graham was meaningful and taking hold. Not unlike what Mora did in Westwood, Graham changed everything on and off the field and got his team leaders to buy in. Taylor Kelly came out of nowhere to win the QB job with Michael Eubank mixing in to add some variety to the offense. All they've done is make up one of the most effective QB'ing units in the PAC so far this season. In addition, Will Sutton - before his injury a few weeks ago - has emerged as a DPOY candidate. For all of that, they've earned five wins. However, none of those wins came against anyone with a pulse (their PAC 12 W's are Cal, Colorado and Utah) and there still are questions about how much further Graham can take these guys this season now that his schemes and players are not surprising anyone and the meat of his schedule is still ahead.

What Has Surprised:

Toss up between Will Sutton and Taylor Kelly with the edge going to Kelly. Nobody - and I mean nobody - was talking about Kelly taking this job. The talk of fall camp was Eubank and Bercovici. However, Kelly (being the most cerebral of the bunch) was the quickest to adopt the changes installed by Graham and demonstrated his unique leadership abilities. He's a classic throw back style leader at QB and he is the perfect fit in a transition year. His numbers speak to his efficiency and reports from those around him speak to his maturity. I'm not sure he'll hold of Eubank forever (or even for the rest of the year), but he's been a tremendous surprise so far.

#6. Colorado (Link to Gekko File Entry)

Recap:

Steve Buscemi is ugly. So is Willie McGee. We thought Colorado would be the equivalent of Steve Buscemi getting beaten down by Willie McGee brandishing the mother of all ugly sticks.

What I Said:

Aristotle once wrote: "Youth is easily deceived because it is quick to hope". Hello Colorado Buffaloes. Despite a lot of positive vibes coming out of their Spring camp, the Buffs don't have the odds in their favor going into 2012. The Buffs return just 10 starters (only four on offense) and go into the season prepared to put somewhere between 18 and 20 true freshmen into playing roles, including in key positions in the offensive backfield and the defensive line.

What Has Transpired:

The Gekko File had predicted a four win campaign with one PAC 12 win based solely on the fact that their O-Line wasn't totally green and that there were a few bodies, notably Ray Polk, on D who could make some plays. While I got the one win correct, I had expected it to be UCLA and not WSU that suffered the humiliating blow (read the whole entry for my rationale on that one). Regardless, the Buffs have actually been worse that I expected as the talent that Jon Embree has recruited, always known to be thrust into early playing time, has not held up as well as one may have hoped against lower level competition. Colorado has shown some toughness and resiliency, though, and I expect that they will still put together one more win before the season is out. Let's hope to the heavens that UW is not involved in that game.

What Has Surprised:

Little has been a surprise outside of the fact that one may have expected a bit more of a lift from transfer QB Jordan Webb than what they've gotten. This is a team with too many inexperienced and over-matched parts. This is WSU circa 2007-2008 and there is a big rebuilding job under way that is truly just getting started.

CONCLUSIONS

All in all, not a bad set of forecasts coming out of the Gekko File to this point. Utah has been the biggest disappointment while Arizona has been the biggest surprise - but nothing completely earth-shattering has transpired in the South to date. It is an exciting race that is brewing and one that still favors the Trojans as long as they can keep their key players healthy and their playmakers involved. Hit the comments thread below and let me know how you think this race is going to turn out.

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