How many days?
Oh, how will we ever pass the time. I suppose another countdown poll will suffice.
Today, I’d like to discuss the PAC 12. We’ve already covered for you a detailed projection, game by game, of how we see the PAC playing out. Much of these projections mirror what lesser studied members of the media are also projecting for the conference.
Does this mean that there is no intrigue to be expected in the conference of champions?
In the name of the venerable Keith Jackson, let me give you a “whoa, Nellie” right here and now.
The PAC 12 is nothing if not predictable in its unpredictability. In any given year you could have a surprise Heisman candidate like a Christian McCaffrey circa 2015. Or a sudden collapse of a perennial championship contender like the 2016 Ducks. Or a bust out team that comes out of nowhere to break into the top 10 and put together an unlikely run towards a championship not unlike the 2012 Oregon State Beavers.
This is the PAC. This kind of stuff happens.
So, what lurks around the proverbial bend in the PAC in 2017? What are the big surprises that are lying in wait? I’m looking for storylines that could realistically come to pass that might not be expected. These ought to be of the variety that attract national attention in order to qualify for this poll.
Let’s jump into some of the storylines I’ll be watching.
Storyline Option #1
Josh Rosen catches fire, elevates the Bruins to top 15 status and makes a case to become the top pick in the NFL draft
I know that many people on this blog, and across the nation, have grown sour on Josh Rosen. It’s understandable. In his one and a half years as a starter, UCLA has lost more conference games than it has won despite the fact that Rosen was a darkhorse Heisman candidate his freshman year and on all of the watchlists starting last season. For all the hype, there hasn’t been a lot of production. This fact is not lost on the fan bases at Washington, Washington State, Cal and USC ... programs that have gotten better QB play during that time but whose own stars have been overshadowed by Rosen.
But, let’s not confuse our disdain for the hype with a lack of appreciation for the underlying talent. Rosen has already put some remarkable football on tape at the competitive level. At his best, he has “top 5” arm strength, excellent accuracy and an ability to get the ball into tough spots - particularly on long out routes and between safeties up the seam.
Rosen is a true junior who still has plenty of time to re-architect his own narrative. There are still many who have not forgotten just what he brings to the table. Athlon’s still has him as the #10 QB in the entire NCAA despite his struggles.
That Rosen might turn in an outrageously productive junior season would be a surprise to those of us who just don’t believe in UCLA. But he has the talent around him and the platform to do so.
Storyline Option #2
Stanford University might be the “Oregon” of 2017 and collapse in a fiery ball of boring play and no bowl eligibility.
I’m not sure we are giving enough attention to the struggles that Stanford is having in adjusting to the new pecking order in the PAC. For all the talent that has been coming to Stanford via the recruiting pipeline, there seem to be fewer and fewer stars being produced. This is particularly true along the lines of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
It is certainly true that David Shaw knows how to coach up a team. Along those lines, Stanford has earned a certain amount of deference. But it is also true that a few breakout stars - and I’m talking specifically about guys like McCaffrey, Solomon Thomas and Blake Martinez - have covered up for what is becoming a long list of recruiting duds and flat-out busts (Barry Sanders, Luke Kaumatule, Alex Carter).
Much of what we like about Stanford this year is tied up in players that should be good as opposed to have proven to be good. Guys like DT Harrison Phillips, OT Casey Tucker, OLB Peter Kalambayi and QB Keller Chyrst have all had moments, but haven’t shown that they can do it over a whole season. In 2017, they must as they are the bedrock of the program.
That it might not happen is a distinct possibility. If Stanford struggles with injury or if these players simply don’t take the next step, the Cardinal could be facing an uphill battle in a conference that eats mediocrity for breakfast with a side of marble rye toast and a bloody mary.
Storyline Option #3
Oregon State goes bowling.
I’m not sure that this would qualify as a surprise to each of you given the fact that I laid the groundwork for this scenario in my Gekko Files preview. However, should Gary Andersen guide his lovable, huggable Beavers into the post-season, I expect that the reaction from the national media would be one of shock and wonder.
We need to acknowledge that Andersen certainly looks the part of a fine coach. That he tore apart what Mike Riley had left him and started building something completely new in its place has the effect of lulling the body republic into a state of malaise when it comes to the happenings in Corvallis. While the nation has been sleeping, Andersen has been putting some pieces together.
There have been a few signs along the way. The 2015 Civil War gave us a breakout of RB Ryan Nall. Last season gave us a win against the Ducks, a blowout of the Wildcats and particularly spirited contests against Utah, WSU and Stanford.
If the Beavers could hang with those teams given what they had at quarterback a year ago, think about what they might accomplish with big-armed transfer Jake Luton at the helm in 2017. Luton has weapons in guys like Nall, Seth Collins, Jordan Villamin and Timmy Hernandez. He also has the pieces of a decent defense and a workable offensive line.
There are six wins out there on the schedule for the Beavers. If they convert them, it will shock the world.
Storyline 1 - a Josh Rosen comeback
Everyone loves a comeback, particularly when it is the return to grace for a fallen star. In 2015, Rosen was the consensus “best QB recruit” in the nation and a player with ESPN level star power. He was also a player with real potential who made some great plays against good defenses.
2017 is shaping up to be a good season for UCLA. I know not everyone agrees, but this is a team with legit top 15 level talent across the roster. If coach Jim Mora can get out of his own way and if new OC Jed Fisch can work some of that Jimmy Harbaugh magic, we could see a real explosion for Josh Rosen.
What surprise national storyline has the best possibility of emerging out of the PAC 12 in 2017?
This poll is closed
a Josh Rosen comeback
a losing, no-bowl season for Stanford
a return to the post-season for Oregon State
something else that we’ll discuss in comments