Welcome back. While I’m certainly enjoying me some Olympic rugby 7s and the fact that rugby players pwn football players where open-field tackling is concerned (we all know my opinion/Coach Pete’s/probably Psalm Wooching’s/everybody-who-knows-what-they’re-talking-about’s on that matter), that will be nothing compared to 25 days from now. Which is just the opening act for games which will likely have greater implications than what happens on the field versus Rutgers.
So, which string of games will be the toughest challenge for the Dawgs?
Here are our options:
A) Rutgers, Idaho, and PDX State
Ha. Jokes. Moving on.
B) Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon OR Stanford, Oregon, and Oregon State
This is a bit tricky - on one hand, Arizona will almost certainly be better than OSU, but then again the physical and mental toll of playing Stanford and Oregon back-to-back will no doubt be taxing before taking on the Beavers. If we were still a Sark-coached team, I would mark this as where the Huskies get caught off-guard; Oregon State seems to have an actual functioning quarterback unlike last year, plus the end of 2015 led to some potential offensive weapons breaking out. Victor Bolden, Paul Lucas, and Jordan Villamin have shown they can make plays if only the person behind center can get them the ball, and The Wrecking Nall is a badass. This is further complicated by the bye week in between Oregon and Oregon State which would seem to counteract the exhaustion of playing Stanford and UO right next to each other and whatever improvements OSU will have made by this point. Hence, I’m putting these two stretches as one option.
C) Utah, Cal, and USC
Now, Cal is pretty much in rebuild mode with their skill positions regardless of whether or not Davis Webb has “it,” and their defense hasn’t really been killer lately, but every team is tougher when they’re preceded by Utah the week before. Although I think this year will be a (temporary) down-ish year for Utah, Kyle Whittingham is a great coach who knows how to do rebuilding years with minimal hiccups. Even in down years, the Utes are a physical team that forces their opponents to play tough, the effects of which are usually felt the week after. So a post-Utah Cal, even with a lame defense and a mass-exodus of their top receivers of 2015, can’t be taken for granted. Then Washington bounces back to USC who, by this point in the season, should have their quarterback broken in whether it’s Max Browne or Sam Darnold who gets the nod.
D) USC, Arizona State, and Washington State
This is the final stretch of the regular season and so depends a lot on the health of all teams involved. The Huskies are sure to be beat up at this point but, on the flip side, everybody else will be too. Everything said about USC in (C) applies, and then Washington gets to face pesky Arizona State and their trigger-happy blitzing, though that being a home game is at least some consolation. For real though, what is it about Arizona State that makes us lose...? I guess a game of Sun Dodgers versus Sun Devils is inherently a rivalry...
Then of course even peskier than that is the Apple Cup. If WSU’s offensive line can protect Luke Falk as he drops back a bajillion times per game - if he’s playing and healthy in the Apple Cup - this could be tricky. I still think the air raid plays into our strengths as a defense but Wazzu’s offense is predicated on short accuracy and - what they were missing with Peyton Bender last year - air tight decision making from their quarterback. People who dismiss Falk as a “system QB” are ignoring his exceptional ability where that’s concerned. Also, the Cougars’ defense is seriously under-appreciated despite losing a decent amount of the front seven. If Alex Grinch was able to make that much of a difference in his first year as defensive coordinator, I’m... apprehensive about what he can do this year.
C) Utah, Cal, and USC
The fact that there isn’t one clear option here just goes to show not only the depth in the Pac 12, but also how there isn’t any one or two teams who currently strike fear into opponents hearts in the way that there have been in the past, whether that was Pete Carroll’s USC or Chip Kelly’s Oregon or others. Part of that is that the mean average level of each team in the Pac is, I think, higher than in most other conferences; I firmly stand by the Pac 12 as The Conference of Cannibals. But it also means that we’ll probably get left out of the playoff again. Meh. (Am I the only one who doesn’t really give a crap about conference representation in the playoff? Like, yeah I’d of course root for a Pac 12 team in it, but pundits always make it seem like Armageddon for whomever is left out.)
Anyways, regardless of how tough a decision is, we still have to have a verdict (or so Landon says), so I’m going with Utah, Cal, and USC. There’s just something about Utah starting off a stretch that makes things seem that much more daunting. I’m also not hopping on the full-steam USC bandwagon - I have UCLA winning the South by just a little bit over the Trojans - but Browne and Darnold are both legit, as are the weapons on both sides of the ball. And if Clay Helton succeeds at turning USC’s culture into the grit he imagines, they could be really, really, not fun to play.
With that in mind: do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.