Coupled with the “taste of winning” the Cougars developed in their 9-4 2015 campaign, Marks’ return alongside “lethal” quarterback Luke Falk bodes well for WSU in 2016, says the personable Pac-12 Networks analyst.
But the road won’t be easy.
“To be quite honest, I think everybody has improved,” Roth told CF.C in a recent conversation about the Pac-12 North. “(That’s) crazy and I understand that when it comes out of my mouth.”
Here’s the break down:
In addition to Marks, “I love the rest of their receivers from River Cracraft to Kyle Sweet and everybody in between,” he said.
As for the running game, which conventional wisdom believes is critical to champoinship success, Roth said of the Cougars: “I think they have enough of a running game” and notes that the “offensive line has been recruited well.”
Roth points to recent conference history when assessing not only how you get to the conference championship game but then hoist the trophy in early December when the title tilt is over: stop the run, create turnovers, and run the ball effectively.
“Defensively, I like what they have up front. The back end has gotten better. They’ve added JC guys. And they’re developing an attitude. It’s becoming a consistent thought of winning up there (in Pullman), like it should be.”
We’ll have more of Roth’s insight on the Cougars tomorrow.
“UW is clearly improved and a year older (including) their quarterback (Jake Browning). The defense is the best in conference. They return a boatload of player,” Roth said.
Particularly impressed with the front seven for the Huskies, Roth raved about their linebackers.
“Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria...I literally just enjoy watching them play.”
But when it came to suggesting Washington will be a frontrunner in the North – as many pre-season pundits believe -- under second-year head coach Chris Petersen, well, Roth isn’t going to make that call.
Despite losing quarterback Jared Goff, who went No. 1 in the NFL draft, Roth sees Cal enjoying another fine season coming off last season’s 8-5 record.
“Last year they didn’t win 10 games. They get to their bowl game and win (that). I think it’s going to be the same deal this year,” Roth said.
“Davis Webb (Goff’s heir apparent out of spring ball) isn’t an upgrade because they had the No. 1 draft pick, but he might be at the end of the year the best quarterback in the conference.”
Webb, a graduate transfer from Texas Tech, created a controversy this spring when he committed to Colorado and then opted to use his final year of eligibility at Cal. Theirshouldn’t be any dust ups on the field, however, as Webb steps into an offensive he knows, going from Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid to Dykes’.
“I worked out (Webb) last week with the Elite 11 and was pleasantly surprised,” Roth said.
The way the Bears’ schedule lines up has Roth thinking they could be a surprise team.
“I look at their schedule and they’ve got an opportunity to come out of the gate and start off 4-0 going into the Utah game at home. They win that then they get Oregon State on the road … then a bye week.
They might be undefeated.”
Four of Cal’s remaining six games are at home which makes a 10-win season a real possibility.
Roth, who is rarely at a loss for words, assessed the state of Beaver football with one brief sentence.
“Of course Oregon State is going to be better.”
After last year’s 2-10 record, which included nine-straight, mostly blowout losses, perhaps there isn’t anywhere to go but up.
“Royce Freeman is underrated and the second-best running back in the country. If it wasn’t for Christian McCaffrey (at Stanford) he’d be the poster guy at running back for the conference,” Roth said.
The Ducks’ offense sputtered at times during their 9-4 2015 season, at least compared with the high-octane pace they’ve enjoyed for the past decade. Should they be able to keep their quarterback healthy (either Montana State graduate transfer Dakota or second-year freshman Travis Jonsen) in 2016 expect more of their devastating, 90-second scoring drives.
This is Roth’s pick to win the Pac-12 North.
A knee-jerk reaction to a team losing a four-year starting quarterback like Kevin Hogan would be to lower expectations, but Roth isn’t buying into any of that.
“I just trust David Shaw and Mike Bloomgren, that they’re going to have either Ryan Burns or Chryst Keller completely prepared. I’ve known both of those kids since they were 16 and they’re really good players. You look at the conference and I get Washington State, I get USC’s quarterback, I obviously get Josh (Rosen) but you look at every other school and you could make an argument they could start at a lot of places around the conference. They’re gifted passers. They are freaks physically. They’re going to be able to run the zone read. They put the work in. What they’re asked to learn is different from anyone in the country, the type of mastery they need in their offense. They are going to be able to handle the variety of defenses in the Pac-12.”
As for the rest of Stanford’s offense ,,,
“A year older Christian McCaffrey is scary. Bryce Love (at running back) is a guy people don’t know a ton about. To me, Trenton Irwin (at receiver) is probably the most consistent ... by the end of the season he’ll be the most consistent route runner outside of Gabe Marks in the Pac-12 Conference. JuJu Smith is by far the most talented receiver, but Trenton Irwin is a technician. He’s surgical in terms of getting off press coverage ...”
“On defense, Quenton Meeks is a year older in the secondary plus all those other guys back there. Their linebackers, they’re always good.”
“I like how their schedule sets up to be honest. It’s front-loaded for the most part. I always look at every schedule after Halloween weekend and think who from there can win out. You look at their last month and it’s Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon -- that’s hard, Cal -- they’ll be favored in -- and Rice. Of everyone in the conference, I think they have the best opportunity to go undefeated in the final month of the season.”
We’ll conclude our conversation with Roth tomorrow when goes into some depth on Cougar quarterback Luke Falk.
If you missed his break down of the Pac-12 South, click here.
ABOUT YOGI ROTH: He directed “Life In A Walk” which is a film about Roth realizing he has not dealt with the emotions surrounding his father's battle with prostate cancer and he invites his father to take a walk, which changes their lives forever. He also produces a podcast, “Life Without Limits” which can be heard at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/lifewithoutlimitspodcast or downloaded from iTunes.