The Dirty Dozen: Week 1

As the college football season kicks off, we're back with our farcical look across the West. This week, the state of Washington is dead to us, we wax poetic about RichRod, predict the results Stanford's 2012 campaign and, of course, have a captive audience in all of you DirecTV subscribers itching for a Pac-12 fix. Here goes…

Dirty Dozen: The "most improved" edition

As the college football season kicks off, we're back with our farcical look across the West. This week, the state of Washington is dead to us, we wax poetic about RichRod, predict the results Stanford's 2012 campaign and, of course, have a captive audience in all of you DirecTV subscribers itching for a Pac-12 fix. Here goes…

1. Oregon

Questions abound in Eugene this season. Who would Chip Kelly be starting at quarterback for Stanford? (Okay, I just threw that one in to stir the pot.) Speaking of, can you stir the pot if you smoked it all first? But I digress…

Will anyone be able to stop the no-huddle offense? Umm, scratch that… will anyone besides the NCAA sanctions committee be able to stop the no-huddle offense? I know the popular pick at No. 1 is USC, but the Ducks are the defending champs two times running and have a decided edge at the head coaching position, so this spot is theirs until proven otherwise.

2. USC

USC has set itself up nicely for a Notre Dame-esque season: No. 1 in the preseason poll, No. 21 in the final poll. (O.J. and Reggie Bush for Rudy and Tom Hammond? Seems like a fair trade to me)

Anyway, an overlooked factor that could help the Cardinal on September 15 is that the Trojans have to play across the country at Syracuse the previous week. Another overlooked factor that could help the Cardinal on September 15 is that USC's coach is Lane Kiffin. Does anyone else feel the man is a ticking time bomb, one bad break from watching his season and his tenure unravel? I'm sure plenty of West Coasters hope to find out soon.

3. Stanford

Time to cram in a season prediction for the Cardinal. I think the team will be about as good as last year's. The offense will be worse but the defense will be better; the loss of the best quarterback in program history will be offset by the fact that Shaw is in year No. 2 and, as has been the case for the last five years, every incoming class is more talented than the exiting class (admittedly, good luck to any group trying to match the bar the 2008 class set).

Anyway, to a very sloppy first approximation, let's assume the team will be about as good as last year's, when we weren't especially lucky to go 11-2. (One measure: we were 1-1 in games that went down to the wire.) However, I am predicting an extra loss this season for a reason totally out of our control. Save for USC, all the toughies are on the road. Washington, Notre Dame, Cal, Oregon and, potentially a Pac-12 title game are all away, as this is an even year in which Stanford has five conference road games. 10-3, mark it down.

4. California

If a tree falls in the forest… and the Bears win a national championship, will the wackos across the Bay be happier or sadder on the balance? What if there were an endangered species in the tree, which just so happened to be where they wanted to build the new Memorial Stadium? (Hypothetically speaking, of course.)

Here's a tougher question: at what point is underperforming no longer underperforming? Simply put, if Cal goes 8-4 every year, maybe they're not a few bad bounces away from the BCS. Maybe they're just an 8-4 club. That's probably tough news for the folks in Berkeley to swallow, but hey, South Bend's still living 20 years in the past too.

5. Utah

Are the Utes the fifth best team in the conference? No. But the two teams they miss in the league are Stanford and Oregon and – and I can't stress this one enough – Utah is not UCLA. In the Pac-12 South, that means they're a Thursday night upset away from playing in the conference title game. Fun bonus fact: three of the Utes' first five games are on Thursdays or Fridays.

6. Arizona

Born and raised a Michigan fan, I naturally wanted Rich Rodriguez to succeed in Ann Arbor. A decent person, I really wanted RichRod to win big in Ann Arbor after all the indignities he had to suffer there. (See No. 2 on the link and it barely scratches the surface.) A telling anecdote from the book is that Rodriguez, from West Virginia coal country, got into hot water when he said "ain't." Some wife of a trustee had her sensibilities offended. Meanwhile, former coach Lloyd Carr was actively encouraging players to transfer out of the program to sabotage Rodriguez. Makes the Trent Johnson/Bob Bowlsby beef look like a Teletubbies episode.

Anyway, all this to say that amidst all the jokes and name-calling that are staples of this column, and amidst all the runaway egos in the sport – on and in between the sidelines -- there are some genuinely good people in the profession. I'll be rooting hard for Rodriguez, so much so that Arizona's now my second favorite Pac-12 team (naturally, Mike Leach's Pirates Cougars are third). So with Oklahoma State, Oregon, Stanford and USC all on deck in the first seven weeks, good luck to that defense.

7. Washington State

I was awful at soccer growing up (in my defense, the limiting factor was not a lack of effort as much as a general clumsiness, which seems like the far better option of the two in retrospect). Anyway, being the worst on the team meant that, every year, I would get the "most improved" trophy and be told that next season, I was going to break out and show I belonged. This created the ultimate catch-22 (kick-22?). Because I lacked coordination and was awful at soccer, I was constantly told how close I was to becoming good, but I never would become that good after all because well, I was awful at soccer and lacked eye-hand/eye-foot coordination (that, and then I reached 13, the age at which by unsigned contract all American boys must stop playing soccer).

Point of all of this is take out the bit about puberty, add in some pirates, lock Craig James' kid in a closet, and that's Wazzu in a nutshell. I'm tired of hearing for five straight seasons how next year is your year and you're really serious about it this time. No more A-for-effort trophies for you guys until you beat someone of note.

[Ed: Washington State hasn't recruited a BCS level in years. This will be a long rebuilding process, if Thursday's 30-6 loss to BYU is any indication]

8. Washington

I originally started writing the prose above with the Huskies in mind (don't judge, you try making two pages of jokes) before realizing Washington State was probably a better fit. But that Washington is in the same conversation of consistently disappointing teams means a few things. First, Cal, Oregon State, Washington State, Arizona State and UCLA, you guys have company! Second, it's a long ways from 1991 and I'm not buying the Washington hype until they beat someone of note either. Until further notice, college football in the state of Washington is dead to me, and that I trust Mike Leach to run a football team a lot more than the overpaid braintrust in Seattle means that I have UW one slot behind their Evergreen bretheren.


Leave it to UCLA football to make an utterly uninspired hire at the precise moment they need to take a risk to find their Jim Harbaugh. "Hey, we lost 50-0 at USC last year, we last won more than seven games in 2005. The NCAA could limit the Trojans to three recruits per year and they'd still find a way to get all the top-flight talent out of L.A. We really need to create some excitement, so I know, let's hire some NFL retread who has done nothing of note in his years bouncing around the league!"

Great plan, guys. At least the basketball program got a feature story in Sports Illustrated out of their implosion.

10. Arizona State

Is it time for another Playboy Girls of the Pac-12 edition? If so, Cyndee from Utah, why don't you call me back? If not, I don't think Tempe will be making too much noise this fall.

11. Oregon State

See my comments on Cal and underperformance becoming the new norm. When the only recruits of any impact you've signed over the last five years are the Rodgers brothers (and that left tackle who chose Oregon State over us at the last minute, and then went on to start as a true freshman, argh), it's going to be hard to keep up. To me, Oregon State is a team that has tread water over the last 5-10 years while several other teams in the conference have improved markedly, so the Beavers have fallen back as a result. Still, Wisconsin visits Sept. 8, and would I ever be happy to be wrong about all of this.

12. Colorado This depleted squad has to play Washington, Stanford and Oregon out of the North? Guess God's a Nebraska fan after all.

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