It’s around this time of year that I get the compulsive inability to think of anything other than college football. Unfortunately, it’s also around this time of year where there’s such little content leading up to fall camp that my brain starts to short circuit until I remember that, indeed, I can just write down some thoughts on here and hit the “publish” button. It doesn’t cure this ailment but, eh, it’s better than nothing.
Plus, not to brag or anything, but past me has had some ahead-of-the curve thoughts that some may argue were even borderline genius (also, present me is very humble about this). Did I get a Nobel Prize for these predictions? No. But should I have gotten a Nobel prize for these predictions? Also no. But do I think I should have gotten a Nobel prize for those predictions. I mean, who’s to say really. But yes.
Is it unfair for me to have written “was the sole living human to have predicted that Colorado would kill it in 2016, or that last year’s Arizona was gonna play football in a way that looked like they practiced at sucking, or that 2017 Mississippi State was gonna beat LSU” on my resume? I mean, yes, probably, but I’ve already printed out like 30 so we’re not wasting those bad boys now.
But I digress.
And now, presenting, some thoughts on the Pac-12 football season in the year of our Lord, Twenty-Nineteen:
Oregon State sucks. Jake Luton doesn’t.
I don’t know if this is a hot take or not, genuinely. (I suspect not?) That’s because Oregon State has been so bad for a minute or two that it feels like they’ve simply ceased to exist, and among this includes the cessation of all takes regarding OSU other than “Remember that time they beat Oregon?” and “lol.”
Regardless of the trajectory Jonathan Smith can put them on, Beav-irrelevance (irrelbeavance, if you will*), means that I feel like nobody’s giving enough praise to a guy who on any other team would be getting a lot more attention.
Ostensibly, there is a quarterback competition between Luton and Tristan Gebbia, the Calabasas quarterback and former UW target who was part of the #Calabraska movement to Nebraska, before transferring out around the time Adrian Martinez** became the guy there. That being said, I don’t mean “ostensibly” from the perspective of Smith. I’m sure in the eyes of the program and coaches that’s genuine. I’m just using that word because, if Luton plays like he has shown he’s capable of when healthy — considering the talent disadvantage he and the entire Oregon State team plays with against their opponents — it’s hard to imagine that a player who couldn’t beat out a true freshman could beat out someone who’s played well (when healthy) and has two seasons of experience at OSU.
Our friendly neighborhood gekko, Chris, wrote that Luton “may be only slightly more mobile than the Statue of Liberty” and, while he’s hardly a dual-threat, I disagree with the extent of that sentiment (although, digressing, the sentence itself does make me giggle). That being said, Chris makes the valid point that OSU’s line was so bad last year that, on the off-chance Gebbia wins the job, it’ll likely be because he has better mobility.
Let’s remember, if it weren’t for Jake Luton’s nearly-Bram Kohlhausen-level comeback***, Oregon State would still have a bajillion-game Pac-12 losing streak.
Pretty much — when healthy — there’s not really any one aspect of Jake Luton’s abilities that’s a big weakness. Typically when a guy has his size and strength (6’7,” 230 lbs), he’ll get praise for “having all the tools” but, if/when a weakness abounds, it’s “he’s not consistently accurate” or “maybe he doesn’t have the mental part of the game down” or some variation thereof. Over the last two years of watching him, neither of those two seem to be true. In other words — he can chuck it Uncle Rico-style over them there mountains, he’s a bit more mobile than Chris gives him credit for, he’s typically quite accurate, and, as far as we can tell from a distance, has a decent football IQ. Isn’t that, like, the stuff football fans and coaches drool over?
To me, his strengths and playing style feels like you could sub him and Justin Herbert on each other’s teams without either Oregon or Oregon State looking much different, save that Herbert’s a more capable runner as a secondary tool.
In fact, playing styles notwithstanding (for example, Khalil Tate isn’t really comparable), I’d go so far as to say having Luton as a quarterback would make every team in the Pac-12 better save Oregon and Stanford who I feel are roughly similar levels — again, when Luton’s healthy. I’m sure by the end of the season a few players will prove themselves and render this statement untrue, the most likely candidates being Jacob Eason, one or both of the LA quarterbacks, maybe Steven Montez if he gets it together, maybe Tyler Huntley if he takes a big step (plz Jacob Eason plz Jacob Eason plz...) but, for now, consistently, there doesn’t appear to be anyone.
But, ya know, this all has the caveat “if he can stay healthy all year.”
**lol @ Cal you almost had Adrian Martinez
Wazzu might finish 4th in the North — and still be really good
Before any Coug fans throw full Molotov cocktails at your computer screen, I think WSU’s gonna be more than serviceable this year — pretty sure they’ll smack down most if not all the Pac-12 South teams on their schedule (although Utah should be a fantastic game, and I’m in holding mode on UCLA, who WSU gets as their first Pac-12 opponent). It’s just, as far as I can tell, the Pac-12 North is gonna be an absolute bloodbath.
While Oregon and Washington keep jockeying back and forth as preseason favorites, it’s not beyond reason that four of the six could take it, plus Cal is probably gonna be as good if not better than last year (and even if they’re just “as good,” their play style is still a tough out), and Oregon State is... well, never mind.
Of those five, it feels like they’re all generally upgrading but with enough key question marks to both A) keep the race interesting and B) finish worse than their prognosis. This means I could see the Cougs either starting right where they left off last year — I’ve watched enough Gage Gubrud the last few years to know that’s believable — or being a good team who’s just stuck in a division with three really good teams. Whichever the outcome, I think it mostly comes down to whether Oregon take the step towards consistency and functioning receivers, Washington towards a more downfield offense with higher talent level on defense and receiver that outperforms their lack of experience, and Stanford towards lines that resemble their old selves (and overcome a truly Satanic schedule holy crap). If those three teams play to their potential, no matter how good WSU is, it wouldn’t surprise me if they end up 4th. If those three teams take the other turn, 2nd again or maybe even (but probably not) *gasp* 1st wouldn’t surprise me.
If Cal can get a half-functioning offense, they’re gonna eff some ess up (AKA “Cal exists to ruin everyone else’s dreams”)
A thought just occurred to me — it’s more than likely the Pac gets left out of the CFP... again... and that Cal’s gonna have something to do with that.
Realistically, if the Pac has a shot at the Playoff, it’s up to Washington or Oregon; I’ll be genuinely shocked if anyone other than Utah wins the South, but their reliance on overperforming rankings via excellent coaching that maxes out talent level means their ceiling is relatively low for a team so good. (tl;dr: Utah’s probably the lowest variance team in the conference this year.) Typically I’d give Stanford a bit of a shot too, but losing JJAW, Kaden Smith, Joey Alfieri, Bobby Okereke, Alijah Holder, Trenton Irwin, Nate Herbig, Bryce Love — all guys who seem to have been such core players over the last few years — combined with a schedule that could be construed as cruel and unusual punishment, it feels like they’re destined to lose at least a couple, likely more. (But also, it’s Stanford, the one western school that can legitimately recruit well regionally and nationally, so you should never expect them to have too bad of a reload.)
Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, right, how Cal’s gonna ruin everyone’s day.
Whether it be by losing to both Oregon and Washington but beating both teams up along the way, or outright winning one or both of those matchups, you bet that if UW and UO lose twice, Cal will have contributed. Now, the latter isn’t exactly likely, but it wouldn’t blow my mind if it happened either.
Other than the two division champs, the Golden Bears are the only Pac-12 team that was in the top 25 of scoring defenses last year (20.4 ppg) — and they were only one point on average behind Utah. I have no problem assuming they’ll stay around that point, defensively, and that’s low enough that should they get even vaguely serviceable on offense, they can start winning a decent amount.
Will that happen? Who even knows, honestly — losing Kanawai Noa as a transfer to Nebraska, plus Patrick Laird and Vic Wharton to graduation sucks, but all QB Chase Garbers has to do is get the tiniest bit better and, in the words of Pedro Sanchez, all their wildest dreams will come true. Okay, maybe that’s hyperbolic. But you get my drift. And, eye test-wise, Garbers was not-good, not-the-worst-ever, but at least looked like he had the foundations to get that tiny bit better.
Which brings us back to Washington: if Cal has a chance to make it two-in-a-row against the Dawgs, they are positioned perfectly to make that come true. I’ve been on record as saying Washington’s gonna be really, really good by the end of the season; but week two? Defensive backs notwithstanding, I don’t care how talented the unproven defensive linemen, linebackers, receivers, and, oh yeah, quarterback are (and they are insanely talented) — week two is the infancy of their careers; nobody will be as good as they can be by week two. Even Myles Gaskin took a month+ into his freshman year to show the world how much ass he kicked.
And, although I’m skeptical Oregon has it in them to contend anyway,* even if they did, I still think even a slight bump in offensive ability and Cal’s gonna mess with the Ducks. Oregon’s schedule during that time is @Stanford, Cal, CU, @UW, WSU. That’s not the worst, but my initial gut reaction is that, unless Oregon all the sudden has become way more consistent since last season, either Stanford beats up Oregon who then loses to Cal, or Cal beats up Oregon who then loses to UW or WSU or both.
Regardless, though, always remember the UWDP motto: Cal is too — wait for it — high.
*Mainly since the logic on them seems to be the same as the logic on UW since 2016: “They return a bunch” but the bunch they returned, when it came down to it, wasn’t enough to make it before, so why would it be enough to make it now?
There’ll be some more of these 2019 thoughts coming out in a sec. Until then, do good things, don’t do bad things, and bow down to Washington.