Fooch's Note: For those wondering why we have a preview of a college football conference, although this goes a bit beyond normal scouting reports for the draft, this will hopefully help you better understand college football heading into the 2011 season, and thus be able to better follow draft prospects.
Last Saturday, I started in a series of previewing the NCAA Division I-A Conferences. I kicked things off in looking at what I believe to be the top six teams of the newly realigned Pac-12. In this offseason, the Pac-12 added Colorado (who was formerly in the Big XII) and Utah (who was formerly in the Mountain West Conference).
It has yet to be seen what these two teams will do in their new conference but it sure to shake things up a bit. In recent years, it seems as though schools like Oregon and USC have dominated. But with the addition of Colorado coming from a much more powerful Big XII and a rising team like Utah entering the fold, it should make for some exciting college football out west.
While a team like Oregon, who has plenty of returning players from last years National Championship team, is going to be the preseason favorite, it's quite possible that the realignment and a tougher schedule could impact that by season's end; a team like Stanford, who was on the rise last season, could also push for that number one spot in the conference with the leadership of a quarterback like Andrew Luck (who will be a front runner for the Heisman Trophy in 2011). But the great thing about college football because of the frequent turn-around in personnel is that anything is possible from year to year.
Here were the standings from the 2010-2011 season:
1. Oregon - Conference 9-0, Overall 12-1
2. Stanford - Conference 8-1, Overall 12-1
3. Washington - Conference 5-4, Overall 7-6
4. Oregon State - Conference 4-5, Overall 5-7
5. California - Conference 3-6, Overall 5-7
6. Washington State - Conference 1-8, Overall 2-10
1. USC - Conference 5-4, Overall 8-5
2. Arizona - Conference 4-5, Overall 7-6
3. Arizona State - Conference 4-5, Overall 6-6
4. UCLA - Conference 2-7, Overall 4-8
Last week's 1-6 preseason conference rankings: 1 - Oregon, 2 - Stanford, 3 - USC, 4 - Arizona, 5 - Colorado, 6 - Washington.
7 - UTAH UTES
This will be coach Kyle Wittingham's 7th year as a head coach but first year in the Pac-12.
In the recent move from the MWC to the Pac-12, the Utes will face a bit tougher competition than they did over int he MWC (with exception to Boise State and TCU). However, one may argue that there are really only two powerhouse teams in the Pac-12 in Oregon and Stanford. It's very difficult to argue something that hasn't happened yet, so time will be the ultimate factor involved in the equation.
Wittingham has an overall record of 58-20 while in the Mountain West which has lead to big-time optimism in the move.
The Utes will be led by quarterback Jordan Wynn who had a very impressive season in 2010 throwing for over 2,000 yards coupled with 17 touchdown passes. The two go-to guys last year were Devonte Christopher and Jereme Brooks who combined for over 1,200 yards in total offense and 10 of the 17 touchdowns that Wynn threw. The Utes will be losing Brooks, so look for Christopher to see more action this year.
The Utes also lost senior running backs, Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata so the run attack could take a significant hit. They were utilized in the pass game and it is uncertain as to whether or not there will be a significant replacement in that loss. Not to mention the loss of the leader on their offensive line in center, Zane Taylor.
The defense did not lose too many significant pieces, so that will stay in tact for the most part. They finished ranked 24th in the nation in points-against.
8 - ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
The Sun Devils would be much better off without Dennis Erickson. Most fans believe that and most former fans of other teams that Erickson has coached feel the same. Erickson struggled in his short tenure in the NFL and now he is doing it at a school that has had hidden talent for quite some time. Guys like Ryan Torian (Washington Redskins) and Kyle Williams (San Francisco 49ers) are being drafted much later than they should be because of the lack of attention this university gets for it's football program.
Erickson has a career record barely over .500 at 25-24 which is just about on par with his coaching.
The Sun Devils do have some talent on the roster there though. And there will be a few more guys that get overlooked because of the shortfalls of the program.
The loss of Steven Threet to concussions means Brock Osweiler will likely be the starting quarterback in 2011. He will be looking to build on solid performances in limited action thus far.
Defensively, the Devils have an experienced secondary and will also rely on the leadership of linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
In short, the Sun Devils look good on paper but talent will be limited due to poor coaching.
9 - CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS
Ah, where to start?
It seems as though every year recently, the Golden Bears provide sheer quality NFL talent but somehow, someway wind up with a losing record. Does that reflect poor coaching? Or is it more of a reflection in that the pieces missing each year are pretty significant? It's really hard to say. But with guys like Tyson Alualu, Cameron Jordan, Jahvid Best, and Shane Vereen heading in to the NFL, I'd bank on the former despite Jeff Tedford's legacy for second most victories in school history and a career record of 72-42.
Although, I point out Teford's inconsistencies in recent years, it could very well also be a case of having a lack of a true quarterback. It will be interesting to see if transfer Zach Maynard will be able to secure the starting position or if Brock Mansion or Allan Bridgford will be able to creep up and take the spot. Either way, it still doesn't look too promising.
Sofele and DeBoskie-Johnson may be promising in the ground attack but it is going to be very tough to replace guys like Shane Vereen (who was drafted by the New England Patriots). Neither Sofele or DeBoskie-Johnson have seen the endzone yet in their careers.
Defensively the Golden Bears could be tougher this year. Although there is some youth there, there is some very promising players. Linebacker David Wilkerson has speed and great agility and gets here and there in a hurry. The two corners in Steve Williams and Marc Anthony (not related to J-Lo's husband) are young but could thrive in a system that sends it's front seven in a variety of schemes and blitzes.
Even though I have them ranked this low, you just never know for sure with the Golden Bears. They could very well be a wildcard in the conference.
10 - OREGON STATE BEAVERS
The Beavers still have quarterback Ryan Katz, so that should work in their favor. However, losing both Rodgers brothers will indefinitely leave a bit of a vacancy at both the running back and wide receiver positions. Those will be some pretty large shoes to fill.
Markus Wheaton will now have to step his game up immensely and will get every opportunity to do so.
There were just so many areas of concern for the Beavers and they weren't that inexperienced of a team. Head coach, Mike Riley certainly has his work cut out for him as there are no Steven Jackson's, Chad Ochocinco's, or Nick Barnett's to work with this year... or even JacQuizz and James Rodgers' for that matter.
It could very well be a dark and gloomy season up in Oregon for Riley and his team.
11 - UCLA BRUINS
Maybe they'll figure out a way to get Jerry Rice Jr. in the game this year. That is all.
On a serious note, I don't think it would hurt to try and get him in the game more. You just never know... sometimes guys like that are late bloomers. It took Michael Jordan a while to emerge, right? Okay, I wasn't being quite 100% serious again, but still.
The problem for the Bruins is that they recruit law students better than they do football players. UCLA has had a couple good players in recent years though. See: Brian Price (Tampa Bay Bucs).
Head coach Rick Neuhiesel hasn't given the students of the renowned school much to cheer about in his tenure there thus far. He better figure it out real quick because he is most certainly on the hot seat.
Kevin Prince will be in his final year as the Bruins quarterback and will really need to crank up the volume in his performances. He, however, will need to find some legit targets to throw the ball to. Wide receiver, Taylor Embree is good but he is not great.
Jordon James is an extremely promising running back but may struggle to see any action as long as Neuheisel is the head coach and Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman are there, unfortunately. Franklin put up some fairly good numbers against the opposition last year, so we will see if that can continue this year.
12 - WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS
The Curse of Ryan Leaf lives on. Just kidding. The Cougars have had a bit of a rough patch though since the early 2000's; not having done much since 2003. Just about the time that Ryan Leaf was 'officially' considered a bust. Okay, I lied - he officially was a bust in 2001 after his short 4 game stint with the Dallas Cowboys. But it's always nice to associate a "curse" with a player; similar to the Babe Ruth "curse". But in reality, the Cougars will bounce back someday but that someday will not be with the current head coach.
With a record of 5-32, somebody please tell me why Paul Wulff is still the head coach. Will nobody else take the job?
The Cougars have too much ground to gain in the conference. The lack of good to decent coaching coupled with a lack of good or decent talent is a sure-fire way to find yourself at the bottom of the barrel. Quarterback, Jeff Tuel is just about the only bright spot on a dismal Cougars roster.
Had he opted to go to a contending school, we very well could be talking much more about this kid's potential as a pro. Unfortunately, I just don't think it is in the cards for him at this point. Same goes for his favorite target last season in receiver, Marquess Wilson who reeled in 55 passes for 1006 yards with 8 touchdowns.
Their defense, well their defense ranked 110th in the nation allowing 35.8 points-per-game. That's about as rotten as it gets and I can't seeing it get much better this season as there were no major changes.
So in essence, and by division of the conference, here are how my rankings stack up:
5. Oregon State
6. Washington State
5. Arizona State