With fall camps about to start up around the Pac-12 next week and with it having been a while since our last roundtable, a few days ago it just felt right to get some writers’ collective football thoughts again. With a proverbial gavel in the hand and after getting in the mindset of a benevolent moderator, I set out to curate the collective wisdom of the greatest group of brains the internet had ever seen.
Unfortunately, those brains were unavailable, so I had to settle for the usual crew.
The question posed to our group of Wunderkindern?
“Which opposing Pac teams do you either think are sleepers who’ll over-perform their hype (or lack thereof) and, conversely, who are you not sold on yet re: expectation to performance level?”
Chris Landon: As much as it pains me and Husky Nation to say it, Oregon has to be viewed as a real sleeper. They have the requisite pool of playmaker talent, they have a great young QB, they have an offensive line that seems to me to be on the upswing and they have a decent enough pass rush to cause some chaos. Sure, their holes are notable — a small line backing corps and a lot of defensive line issues — but they have enough potential in other areas to still outscore most opponents. That plus a favorable schedule.
Gabey Lucas: I totally agree. I feel like this year with regards to Oregon, I view them kinda like I view Jake Browning in that I feel the need to be a devil’s advocate no matter what somebody says about them since they inhabit such a nuanced middle ground. On one hand, every time a national or Oregon-leaning publication thinks they’re the next hot thing for 2018, it seems far too pumped up, but when Husky fans and other people think they’re still gonna be chopped liver this year, it’s crazy to me. Worst case scenario for them (and things would have to go mega-wrong for this to happen plus probably a Justin Herbert injury) is probably 5 wins — and that’s an absolute implosion on the biggest scale. Best case scenario (and I think they’re gonna be much closer to this side of things) is probably 10 wins. My gut is saying they’ll be at 8 or 9.
What happens next year and in the future without Herbert is a different question, but 2018 Oregon is gonna be aaaalright save a massive collapse.
Chris: Alright. That’s enough Oregon love. I also can’t help but to think that OSU is going to look better than most people think, even if it doesn’t turn into a lot of wins. Kind of like Cal last year.
Gabey: I can’t imagine them making quite the jump Cal did last year, but I think you could be right and OSU 2018 could be a poor man’s Cal 2017. I still think Jake Luton could be a pretty good QB — he seemed like he was figuring things out-ish (or as much as one could at OSU last year) right before that crazy injury.
Also yah, if we praise Oregon any more I’ll start dry heaving.
Chris: Don’t count out Jack Colletto as a surprise starter for OSU. Didn’t you read the Gekko File that I sent you under double eyes only clearance?
Gabey: Bitch I knew him from his Camas HS WA Player of the Year days psshhhh #shoutoutJackColletto
*A wild Andrew Berg appears*
Andrew Berg: Underrated: Utah
Utah went 3-6 last year, which stands out as a rare poor year for them after consecutive winning seasons in a difficult division. They had three single-digit losses to ranked teams last year, so that record was close to looking much better. The schedule won’t do them any favors since they line up with all three of UW, Oregon, and Stanford from the North. Nonetheless, Kyle Whittingham is one of the best coaches in the country at getting the most out of his roster. If Tyler Huntley stays healthy, he gives them talent and experience at QB. Even if Utah doesn’t finish with an exceptional W-L record, they will test lots of good teams and could pull off some big upsets.
Fans who expect an immediate turnaround from the talented UCLA roster now that they have an equally talented coach in Chip Kelly need look no further than Chris Petersen’s first year at UW. Structure and discipline take time to implement. Even if Kelly successfully overhauls the program’s culture, it’s unlikely that the results will show up in year one. Moreover, UCLA is a 6-win team who lost five players to the NFL draft, tied with UW for the most in the conference. Most notably, they will be without their all-world QB and his successor is still up in the air. UCLA fans will need to show patience, because this team is unlikely to crack the top half of the conference this year.
Gabey: As far as my own thoughts, I think the team that’s been put too much on a pedestal — although that’s cooled down a bit by now — is Arizona.
Especially early in the offseason, it seemed like people were going nuts over them on account of Khalil Tate, Kevin Sumlin, and, uh, that’s it? I’ve seen plenty of “Zona to the Rose Bowl” talk and most of their hype, while a bit less ubiquitous now, has still been far disproportional to what we’ve seen from them and pretty much all based on the fact that Tate’s a freak. Don’t get me wrong, I love him (obviously, who couldn’t?) but he can’t alone carry a team who otherwise has neither the talent nor the coaching to reasonably win a NY6 game; the average composite score of their recruiting classes from 2014-18 has consistently hovered at .84 and, seeing as Coach Sumlin was famous for plateauing at eight wins despite the talent he hauled in at Texas A&M, I don’t see any reason why he’d all the sudden become a tactical mastermind that’s able to outdo a sizable talent deficit.
Furthermore, Sumlin’s a fine coach but people getting all amped about him — other than his recruiting abilities — is dumb. RichRod got flak for being too much of a seven-win Steve so they brought Sumlin in to... pretty much do the same thing? I’d love to be wrong — after all, the Pac desperately needs to improve their product for UW through association to be taken seriously, but if you’re pissed about plateauing at mediocrity, maybe it’s not the best idea to hire a replacement whose teams’ plateauing at riiiiiiight above mediocrity is so well-known that people literally celebrate 8/5 as “Kevin Sumlin Day”? He’ll probably be able to ride the Khalil Tate wave for a year or two like what he did with Manziel but otherwise...
As for underappreciated, although I have an asterisk on this, is WSU.
I include this with the caveat that it’s completely contingent on them having a quarterback ready. They don’t have many big names currently (although [true freshman lefty] Cammon Cooper is the future), but they sure have a big stable of guys plus grad-transfer Gardner Minshew. It’ll likely come down to either Minshew or spring leader Trey Tinsley who, by all accounts, looked quite good. This kind of goes without saying but, if they can find their guy, I don’t see why the can’t overperform the low expectations the media polls, etc., have for them.
Which, really, that’s most of why I’m picking WSU here; it’s less that I think they’re gonna be great and more that the general consensus is that they’ll be not very good. Most of this is based on two things: losing Luke Falk, and the fact that of the five other teams in the North, all but one is expected to be a better team than last year. While the Cougs should be taking a little step back temporarily, Cal, Oregon, Stanford (or at least their offense) and UW are all getting better. I’d predict Wazzu hovers around bowl-eligible but, more importantly, will probably be a better team than their record indicates given the North situation.
At the very least, we’ll get to see plenty of shovel passes to James Williams, who we should all agree is a badass.
Holy butt I didn’t realize how long my answer was... sorry.
Rob Foxcurran: I think UCLA could be better than many expect in Chip Kelly’s first year. Keeping in mind he’s bringing in a new system and these aren’t “his guys” on this roster, it’s not like UCLA is devoid of talent. Per 247’s composite rankings, they’ve had top 20 recruiting classes the last four seasons.
If incoming true freshmen Dorian Thompson-Robinson wins the starting QB job, he is the perfect dual-threat QB to lead Kelly’s offense. It’s not like this is Kelly’s first year coaching either. At this point, he’s one of the most experienced college coaches in the country and he’s proven he knows how to build a winning program.
Looking at the three other teams in the south above them in the Pac-12 media poll, it’s easy to see why UCLA was given a 4th place finish. That said, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think they could surprise the league and end up a spot or two higher then that when all things are said and done.
Gabey: That’s a good point, they feel like one of the biggest wildcards in the league this year. Also true facts regarding DTR; I don’t think he’ll win the job this year but once he does, man that system and his strengths are gonna mesh well.
Rob: Yeah, I mean my thoughts there are certainly more of a long shot take.
I don’t think they’ll be world beaters by any stretch. I could just see them being more competitive than people are giving them credit for.
Gabey: Totally know what you mean — I could see it going both ways for sure.
Andrew: Plus, it’s good that we covered both sides of it. Want to make sure someone gets it right.
Gabey: Yeah the key is to equivocate as much as possible that way you can’t be wrong.
That being said, I’m the cockiest bitch in the world when I get a hot take right (see: Colorado’s 2016 ascendance, Aaron Fuller forcing himself into the rotation his frosh year, and Miss State beating LSU last season when all the dumb dumbs in my pick ‘em group said otherwise) so this really is a golden opportunity.
And that was our thoughts.
The important thing is that no matter how UCLA does next year, we’re all geniuses who predicted it right.
Do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.