Clardy's Corner: Pac-9 Midterms

(With the San Francisco Giants starting the World Series, and with the weather taking a nasty turn across much of the country, I'd like to thank those of you who bothered to read this week's Corner. Now, let's begin…)

I was 13 when I first heard Public Enemy's "It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back." Back then, I didn't necessarily understand the complete meaning behind most of Chuck D's lyrics (and I'm still trying to figure out "Cold Lampin' With Flavor Flav"), but it didn't really matter. When you're 13, you know what sounds cool. And that was good enough for me.

More than twenty years later, it's still one of my top-five albums of all time. Every once in a while, when I need to psych myself up a little bit, I listen to it. And it still works. It actually provided the perfect soundtrack as I drove into South Bend last month for the Stanford-Notre Dame game. By the time I was pulling into the parking lots, "Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos" was playing, and I was completely ready for gametime.

So, with "It Takes A Nation of Millions…" providing the backdrop, let's become prophets of rage and dive into this year's…

PAC-9 MIDTERMS

U$C (ineligible)

Washington State
Bring The Noise:
They're not competitive yet, but they are starting to show signs of becoming frisky. QB Jeff Tuel is slithery in the pocket, and he is progressing every week. Keep an eye on new starting LB (and East Palo Alto native) Sekope Kaufusi. He's hard to miss…he's the one with the hair.
Don't Believe The Hype: Any chance the Cougars have of continuing to improve go out the window if Tuel gets broken in half. Problem is, with that offensive line, it's a real possibility. The defense still is far from being a fearsome unit.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: cal and Washington come to the Palouse. I promise you Wazzu beats at least one of those teams.
Midterm grade: They're not winning games, but they are playing better. Right now, that's all you can ask of the Cougs. D.

UCLA
Bring The Noise:
They beat Texas. At Texas. No, it doesn't look quite as impressive now (thanks to Iowa State), but it's still something. RB Jonathan Franklin has been a consistent weapon for the Bruin offense. K Kai Forbath is erasing John Lee from UCLA's record books.
Don't Believe The Hype: Remember the days when the Bruins had a potent passing attack? Cade McNown? Drew Olson? Brian Poli-Dixon? Freddie Mitchell? Those days are gone. It's hard to win in the Pac-9 when you can't get the ball downfield. It's going to be even harder now that QB Kevin Prince is done for the year. Also, the rush defense has largely been a problem since game one at Kansas State.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: Arizona at home, Oregon State at home, road trips to Washington and Arizona State, and the finale against U$C in the Rose Bowl. Right now, can you definitively pick the Bruins to win any of those games? Neither can I.
Midterm grade: C-

Arizona State
Bring The Noise:
I love watching LB Vontaze Burfict. When he is playing with controlled fury, he is easily the most fearsome middle linebacker in the league. QB Steven Threet proved earlier this season that he can move the Sun Devils down the field. They almost beat Wisconsin in Madison, and no one has come closer to Oregon on the scoreboard than ASU.
Don't Believe The Hype: Too often, Burfict's fury is raging unchecked. His nickname might as well be "Fifteen Yards". Along those lines, the Sun Devils are dead last in the league in penalties. They're also dead last in the league in turnover margin. That combination will lose you a lot of games. It's cost A-State four so far.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: Road games against U$C and Arizona and a home match against Stanford will be their final chances to make some noise in the league this year.
Midterm grade: C-

Washington
Bring The Noise:
Their last-second comeback win at U$C and their double-overtime thriller against Oregon State were two of college football's most entertaining games this year. RB Chris Polk has been a steady producer, and WR Jermaine Kearse has overcome an awful case of the dropsies.
Don't Believe The Hype: Jake Locker still looks like the same quarterback he's been the past couple years: explosive as an athlete, grossly raw and wildly inconsistent as a downfield passer. Unless he does something absolutely spectacular by season's end, his year will be defined by his passing line against Nebraska: 4-of-20, 71 yards, 2 INT. Meanwhile, about the only thing that might be able to save UW's defense is if Steve Emtman and Lawyer Milloy suit up again.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: The Huskies still have road trips to Oregon, cal, and Washington State on the schedule. Two of those trips could be murderous, and the third will not be easy.
Midterm grade: C

cal
Bring The Noise:
They do an outstanding job of protecting Bear Territory, winning their four home games by an average of almost 39 points. RB Shane Vereen and WR Marvin Jones are big-time threats.
Don't Believe The Hype: The French army has a better record on the road than cal does. The Bears are winless on the road, losing those games by an average of 19 points. There is no definitive proof that Kevin Riley is consistently making progress towards being a top-tier Pac-9 quarterback.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: I've said it before and I'll say it again: anyone can win at home. The truly good teams win on the road as well. You can also tell how much heart a team has by what they do on the road, too. That said, cal may have Oregon, Stanford, and Washington right where they want them: in Strawberry Canyon.
Midterm grade: C.

Oregon State
Bring The Noise:
Jacquizz Rodgers. Enough said there. QB Ryan Katz is putting it together, and could become one of the league's top quarterbacks as early as next season.
Don't Believe The Hype: How much better would this offense be if James Rodgers had been healthy all year? Who put road games at Boise State and TCU (at the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium) on the schedule? And why is the defense so worrisome?
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: Four home games down the stretch will help, but their final two games could tell us the whole story: visiting Stanford on November 27, and hosting the Civil War on December 4.
Midterm grade: B-

Arizona
Bring The Noise:
Beating ninth-ranked Iowa in Tucson was the national attention grabber this program has been looking for for over a decade. QB Nick Foles kept compiling the numbers that stat geeks drool over. It's not necessarily Desert Swarm, but their defense has allowed the fewest points in the league, and they were particularly superb against cal and Washington.
Don't Believe The Hype: Foles is on the shelf with a dislocated kneecap. The pass defense took a vacation day against Oregon State. And there is still a sense that this team isn't quite for real just yet.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: Right now, the Wildcats are looking up at two teams in the Pac-9: Stanford and Oregon. They have to get on a plane to face both of those teams. Home games against U$C and Arizona State won't be easy, either. We are going to learn a lot about Arizona in the weeks ahead.
Midterm grade: B+

Stanford
Bring The Noise:
No Toby Gerhart? No problem. RB Stepfan Taylor has been leading the way for Stanford's still-potent rushing attack. Owen Marecic has been a rebel without a pause. And what more can you say about Andrew Luck? Meanwhile, more people are watching this program than ever before. Well, unless the Giants are playing.
Don't Believe The Hype: Ahead 21-3 late in the first quarter, Stanford couldn't hold off Oregon. Tackling has been a bit of an issue since that game, too. Thanks to injuries, we still haven't seen what this entire receiving corps can truly do.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: November 6 against Arizona will likely decide who stays within striking distance of Oregon in the Pac-9 race. And November 20 will be huge.
Midterm grade: A-

Oregon
Bring The Noise:
I hate the spread option scheme. I really do. But Chip Kelly's offense is operating on a plane that I didn't think existed before in football. The next defensive coordinator to find a way to consistently slow these guys down immediately goes to the front of the line for head coaching jobs. Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed, the defense has 25 takeaways (far and away the best in the conference), and they tighten as the game goes along.
Don't Believe The Hype: Well, actually, until further notice, please, by all means, believe the hype.
Show ‘Em Whatcha Got: The Ducks' offense is good for at least one short-circuit per year, and it almost always happens on the road. Accordingly, the task of stopping Oregon's sprint to the BCS title game falls to cal, U$C, or Oregon State.
Midterm grade: A+

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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS

Two thoughts on the Harbaugh Hubbub Of The Week:

1) Just about every other college fan base in America lets their Saturdays in the fall revolve around their team. It is beyond me why so many Cardinal fans seem to insist that Stanford make Saturdays in the fall revolve around them. Maybe it's because I don't have any kids. Maybe it's because I don't have much of a life. Maybe it's because I grew up in a part of the country where college football is the unquestioned king. But I'll put it like this: I have never, ever heard a Sooner fan (or Notre Dame fan, or even a U$C fan) ever complain about a kickoff time…

2) More than a few have said they stayed away from the Washington State game because the Cougars weren't a big enough "draw" for them to show up. I have a question for those folks: as a Stanford fan, when you buy a ticket to a Stanford Football game, whose team are you there to see? Ours? Or theirs? I realize that some matchups are sexier than others, but if you're a Stanford fan, shouldn't Our team be enough to get you in the tent? Especially now?...

Congratulations to John Platz for permanently sliding over to the play-by-play chair for men's hoops broadcasts! Looking forward to hearing what he and Drew Shiller can do starting November 15…

Oregon's offense is nearly impossible to defense not necessarily because of the plays, and not necessarily because of the execution. It's because of the tempo. The Ducks move so quickly that the defense can barely catch its breath, much less call a play. I went back and re-watched the first half of the Ducks' 60-13 throttling of UCLA, and I noted how much time elapsed between the end of each play and the moment Duck center Jordan Holmes put his hand on the ball to snap it. I also noted how much time remained on the play clock when the center was ready to snap. The results? Well, in Oregon's five first-half drives (all of which ended in scores):

  • an average of 18 seconds elapsed between the end of the play and the moment the Ducks were ready to snap the ball.
  • on average, the Ducks were ready to snap the ball with 26 seconds left on the play clock.
  • the longest time elapsed between the end of the play and the moment the Ducks were ready to snap was 33 seconds, and that was following a deep incompletion by Darron Thomas, so it took a bit longer for everyone to get back to the line. The shortest time? Eight seconds.
  • the latest the Ducks were ready to snap was with 12 seconds remaining on the play clock. In their first three drives, they were always ready to snap with at least 20 seconds to spare. Once, they were ready with 35 seconds left!

So, on average, UCLA's defense had an average of 18 seconds to unpile, regroup, call a formation, and get ready for the next play. On one occasion, they only had eight seconds. Eight! It's almost impossible, and it by far is the most indefensible aspect of this offense…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… well, I was going to tell you that you might need to keep an eye on Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon as one of the best receivers in college, but he got arrested this week on a DUI complaint. So never mind…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… here's the biggest problem with Brett Favre: because his body is so broken down, he doesn't get better during games. He gets worse. Much worse. Even if Brett is "healthy" enough to keep the streak going this Sunday, if I'm Brad Childress, I have to sit him down…

Not a Pac-9 thought, but… wait a minute…I thought David Stern was postponing the start of the NBA season until all the members of Miami's Big Three are completely healthy…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Rob from parts unknown had a thought on improving player safety in football: "Do you follow rugby at all? If you do, you'll note that a player is penalized if he does not commit his arms to a tackle in which he has left his feet.…Rugby's requirement that the tackler put some skin in the game by sticking his arms in there tends to eliminate the elevated, shoulder-first tackles as well….Wouldn't the introduction to American football's rules of this simple requirement that the tackler's arms be extended on an elevated (off the ground) tackle make a lot of sense? It would be easy to enforce, as well as easy to learn."

Rob, I've got to admit I don't really follow rugby that much. But I can tell you that in the NFL, they added a rule this offseason making illegal any attempt by a defender to launch himself (leave his feet) into a defenseless receiver. That infamous hit by New England Patriots safety Brandon Merriweather on Todd Heap is a textbook example of what that rule is supposed to get rid of.

So, if I've got the gist of what you're proposing right, the NFL has already kind of addressed this. Now, I'm not sure if it's enforced anywhere near as strongly in college football, though…and I kind of doubt that it is...

Got a thought on this Corner? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc)... or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com...

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PAC-9 PICKS

Brutal week. I should know better than to pick Oregon to win by fewer than three touchdowns at home. Foolish.

cal @ Oregon State. Uh oh…cal has to leave the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium. You know what that means. I like Oregon State by 13.

Arizona @ UCLA. I just don't have faith in the Bruins defense. And I have even less faith in UCLA's offense. Unless Jonathan Franklin can help the Bruins hog the clock, and unless that translates into touchdowns (not field goals), I like Arizona by 15.

Washington State @ Arizona State. The Sun Devils can't possibly lose this game, can they? Can they? To be honest, I can't rule it out. To be even more honest, I don't have the guts to predict it. I like Arizona State by 10.

Oregon @ U$C. Okay, Monte Kiffin…you're a defensive genius…what can you do against the Quack Attack? I like Oregon by 14.

Last week: 1-2 (straight-up), 0-3 (ATS). This year: 10-6 (straight-up), 7-9 (ATS). Last year: 25-11 (straight-up), 19-16-1 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:00pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com. If you're in Pittsburgh, you can also hear him weekends on 93.7 The Fan.

Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays during the college football regular season on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com, or e-mail him at troyc@thebootleg.com.


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