Schu Strings: Picking the Pac

Just like Christmas in July, it's time for another "Why Does He Bother" column from Johnny Schu. Yup, here it is. This year's Pac-10 predictions piece. At least this season I won't make the mistake of picking Arizona third.

If I recall, last year I made the brilliant statement that I didn't think Washington State could win the Pac-10 because a lack of depth would catch up to it. Then I picked Arizona third. Yeah, that turned out to be a beaut. At least I could hang my hat on Cal, that is, if I had a hat to hang.

So let's get started. Pac-10 Football predictions from Schu:

1. Oregon State: If you were lost in time for a few years, you'd have to think Schu was spending way too much time talking to his Godzilla figures, but this is the new Oregon State, and there are a lot of reasons to consider a place atop the conference. First, there's experience at quarterback. Derek Anderson had his share of rough spots last season, especially against higher-caliber competition, but with a year under his belt a lot of the rust could be removed. Anderson was still a 50 percent passer last season. Add to that the return of Steven Jackson, who could be the best running back in the conference, and OSU has weapons on the ground and through the air. It also has the benefit of that fast turf at home, and that could be critical for its smokin' quick defense when Washington and ASU visit. Oregon State could be in charge of its own destiny once road games at USC and Oregon loom to close out the season.

2. Arizona State: Yeah, wide receiver Shaun McDonald departed early for the NFL, but quarterback Andrew Walter completed 10 or more passes to 10 players last season, so ASU is all about spreading the wealth. And Walter has the strongest arm in the conference, so Sparky will have every opportunity to spread the field. It must find an answer at tailback, but the strong likelihood is that ASU will score a lot.

Defensively, it's a different story. The Sun Devils were brutal in that regard with Terrell Suggs, but hope a highly-regarded secondary will help to make things a little more difficult this season. ASU's big miss is Washington, but it hosts USC October 4 in a game that could play a role in determining who has an upper hand early.

3. Washington: Like ASU, Washington has a great quarterback. Cody Pickett is one of the best signal callers in the country, and he has a fabulous target in junior receiver Reggie Williams. Additionally, new head coach Keith Gilbertson has all kinds of offensive savvy and Pac-10 experience, but can U-Dub overcome the off-season Rick Neuheisel debacle? Road games include Ohio State, UCLA and Oregon State, but it does host USC October 25 and appears to have a very winnable November.

4. UCLA: The Pac-10's anti-thesis of the Dick Tomey Arizona teams. I contend Bob Toledo's problem was that he gambled too much. Of course, there was that underachieving thing. But if new head man Karl Dorrell can rally the troops, this might be your league darkhorse. UCLA could be the most talented team in the Pac-10. Time will tell how long it takes to adjust to the new regime. Non-conference dates at Colorado and Oklahoma will certainly be difficult early tests, but the league slate is actually rather favorable.

5. USC: The media's pick to win the league, and given the depth of sheer talent, it's certainly a selection that makes a lot of sense. The likelihood is that USC will occupy that top spot for some time to come. The Pete Carroll renaissance is well underway, and it looks as though Troy could give the conference the dominant team for which some have screamed. I am not one of those screamers. Still, this season USC has to replace Carson Palmer, and while there's ability at quarterback, it's untested. Same with the running game. Defensively, Southern Cal could be dastardly, and that might be enough to keep things close, assuming the offense can hold up its end of the bargain on a consistent basis. October is a bear. At ASU, then road games with Notre Dame and Washington in back-to-back weeks.

6. Washington State: Jason Gesser and Marcus Truffant depart, as does long time coach Mike Price, but there's still talent in Pullman. Matt Kegal must be able to deliver at quarterback, an often shaky prospect when opportunity presented itself in the past. But there's ability at receiver. Additionally, if Jermaine Green answers the call in the backfield, WSU could show some versatility. September is a gauntlet: At Colorado, at Notre Dame, at Oregon. Wazzu must also travel to USC and Washington.

7. Oregon: For the last decade, Oregon has been the most consistent team in the Pac-10. Last season, Oregon was consistently good early, and consistently bad late. Jason Fife and Kellen Clemons are capable quarterbacks and Sammie Parker is the team's top returning receiver, so there is talent, and the offensive line might be among the best in the league. UO got pummeled in pass defense last year, and if it can shore up that aspect, this could still be a dangerous team.

8. California: Jeff Tedford was a perceived miracle worker after leading a beleaguered Cal team to a winning campaign last year. He even played a major role in getting brutal underachiever Kyle Boller a look at QB in the NFL. But this figures to be the down cycle as Cal lost loads of experience. However, this young team landed a strong recruiting class, so while the losses might mount in 03, Tedford certainly appears to have Cal on the right track.

9. Arizona: More questions than the Riddler. Who starts at QB? Running back? Who will step up at receiver? How does the UA deal with a paper thin front line on both sides of the ball? Does the whole thing unravel if the losses add up early? This is a young team with talent that needs experience to develop, so like Cal, it could be a long season. But will fans show the patience to weather the storm?

10. Stanford: The Cardinal lost every player of significance last season. Add to that road games at Washington, USC and Oregon State and maybe fans would be better off counting all the school's Nobel Prize winners. Or Sears Cup trophies. Anything to keep their minds off football.

…Moving on…

…Sometimes one finds wisdom from the most unusual sources. Case in point, the Johnny Schu "White Trash Weekend", just concluded, with swings to Phoenix highlighted by Friday's Iron Maiden show and Sunday's WWE Summerslam Pay Per View at American West Arena.

In this case, we'll put wrestling on the back burner and focus on the brilliance of Iron Maiden front man Bruce Dickenson. Brilliant not because he sings for a band that belts out tunes honoring literary achievements such as Revelations, Icarus and the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. And not even because he pays homage to the Prisoner, one of the great television programs of all time.

No, Friday night at Cricket (we used to be Blockbuster after we were Desert Sky) Pavillion, Dickenson took the time to lay it on the line in regards to the pathetic state of the music industry. Personally, I've been sitting on this rant for quite awhile, so this seems as good a time as any. It's a conversation a number of friends and I am often fond of having.

In short, the music industry bleeping sucks.

Here's the Dickenson version. The music industry whines and cries about people lifting its product from the Internet for free, then turns around and sells CDs with one or two worthwhile songs for 18 bucks a pop. So really, who's ripping off whom? Dickenson argues that fans will download material for preview purposes, and if they like the product, then spend money.

But instead of demanding that its bands put out a quality product, the music industry searches for disposable one-hit machines that will disappear into used bins before the middle of the decade. It's a lot of money for fans to pay when the savvy ones know they can buy a blank CD for pennies on the dollar. So even the dumbest of the dummies seems able to figure out that record companies are jacking profits off the charts, and then turning around and crying because people think their product sucks.

Stardom coverage is bizarre as well. Take, for example, the recent SARS concert in Toronto. Amazing bill, all day event, an estimated half million people checked this show out, but only two performers got any national attention: The Rolling Stones, who headlined, and Justin Timberlake. Forget that Timberlake performed for roughly 20 minutes in the afternoon, and forget that those in attendance booed Timberlake relentlessly. Somehow, in the skewed perspective of today's entertainment industry, Timberlake carries more media weight than multiple-decade, multiple-platinum rockers AC/DC and Rush.

And now to a more personal rant: radio. In no uncertain terms, commercial radio is terrible. There was a time not so long ago when radio stations had character, and that character reflected their specific communities. Nowadays, thanks to the likes of Clearchannel and a handful of other corporate blue-tie consultant driven no-clue conglomerates, radio is the very definition of a cookie cutter medium. The rock station in Denver sounds exactly like the rock station in Boston, which sounds exactly like the rock station in Tucson, which sounds exactly like the rock station in Mobile. Insert format here and it's exactly the same story. Country is dominated by performers who don't write their own material, let alone play an instrument, and who often sing through filters that enhance otherwise marginal ability. Hip hop is an extension of rap with a computer dance track, and lyrics that could be conjured over a burrito at Nico's, and with about the same effect two hours later. Rock is a disaster. It's a format either stuck in a 30-year time warp (do any of us really need to hear Stairway to Heaven or Comfortably Numb ever again?) or some pre-processed, metal rap hybrid that possesses neither angst nor rebellion, since every damn band who breaks through in said format sounds exactly like every other band. This is a format where the big-money survivors are the likes of Aerosmith and Metallica. Anymore, Aerosmith more closely resembles Celine Dion while Metallica has set the bar to a new high in fan alienation. Once the band that carried the mantle for pride in one's product at the expense of popularity, thus garnering that popularity precisely because of the way it spoke to disenchanted youth, Metallica has gone from anti-establishment to bitchy whiner in a transformation of unrivaled proportions.

The days of variety are long gone, unless satellite actually takes a sizable enough chunk out of the market, but that's unlikely in that the audience to which radio caters views the medium as little more than background noise.

The sad truth is that there's more music available than ever before, but it's harder to get to and will probably never have access through traditionally available mediums.

But there are fans who will search it out, and thus, bands who actually believe in their product can still make something of a living. Maybe not a living to the degree of Iron Maiden, which for much of the last two decades has churned out a fair amount of material appreciated by its fans, some 20-thousand strong at Cricket Friday night. Even Maiden is sick of the hangers-on. The only radio/MTV play the group ever really garnered was during the Piece of Mind era, and through tracks like Run to the Hills. Well, Dickenson told the people who only owned that album basically to leave now since they were obviously controlled by radio. The real fans had a much greater understanding of the breadth of solid work put together over the years. And for Iron Maiden at this stage of the game, those are the people who matter.

Hey, when it's all said and done, feel free to listen to what you want, and if that happens to be Britney Spears or Garth Brooks, well, more power to ya. As long as it's what you like, and not what some tone-deaf executive with a window office tells you it's what you should like.

[John Schuster is an editor and columnist for Cat Tracks Magazine. He is also not a fan of corporate radio and instead prefers Prog Rock and the occasional Cars album. He is also terrible at predicting things, but did think Cal would be good last season.]

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