The Saturday Edge is very proud to present an exclusive PAC 12 & Oregon football Q & A session with FishDuck.com. FishDuck launched in August of 2011 with a focus on schematic analysis of college football, specifically the University of Oregon. The site is renowned for its detailed yet easy-to-follow video analysis of the spread offense and daily in-depth articles.
Question # 1: Las Vegas has installed USC as the overwhelming favorite to win the PAC 12 South Division this year (-600) and Oregon to win the North Division (-240). What other team(s) could realistically surprise the oddsmakers and challenge those two teams for the division & conference title? Why?
Charles: The Pac-12 North could have an upset champion of Stanford as they return a good team and have a new QB as Oregon does. Cal could also threaten as the Golden Bear QB will be improved, and the Cal defense is reloading with an impressive group of athletes. Cal has been hoarding top D-line talent the last few years and they redshirted some defensive linemen that could have been in their playing rotation last year.
Kurt: USC on paper looks fantastic, but depth has to be a huge concern for them, particularly with facing one of the tougher schedules in the Pac-12 this year they are one or two injuries away from having major issues. Oregon appears stacked and doesn’t face a difficult schedule until October, with all eyes on the Oregon-USC matchup on November 3rd.
The teams that can threaten the two top-tier Pac-12 squads are Washington and Stanford. There are no teams in the south division that appear to be anywhere close to USC’s level of talent, so barring catastrophic injuries their grasp of the Pac-12 south title will likely come down to their matchup with the Ducks in early November. The only team in the south that could possibly surprise people is Utah, a still somewhat unknown entity in the conference
In the north there are some intriguing teams though. Washington State made without question the most fascinating hire of the year, bringing in Mike Leach and his Air Raid attack, and with the passing combination of Jeff Tuel and Marquess Wilson they could surprise some teams, though realistically it will take a couple recruiting cycles for Leach to get ‘his’ people in place.
Washington is a team that has had to struggle to come back from the embarrassment of a 0-12 season a few years back, and they remain a work in progress. The Huskies are making the right steps to return to relevancy, but still appear a little ways off. They have not beaten their hated rival Oregon Ducks since 2003, and don’t appear to be able to do so any time soon.
Until they overcome the Oregon hump, they remain a mid-tier intriguing prospect. Keith Price is one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, and the swiss cheese defense implemented vs. Baylor in the bowl game has received a massive upgrade in coaching talent with the additions of Justin Wilcox, Peter Sirmon, and Tosh Lupoi to the staff. Whether their x’s and o’s knowledge translates to on-field performance by their athletes will be the deciding factor in how well UW does this year.
Stanford has the same dilemma as Oregon, how to replace the greatest player in school history? They have quite possibly the best offensive line again in the Pac-12, and have recruited well the past few years, maintaining that in the transition from Coach Jim Harbaugh to Coach David Shaw. They cannot maintain their high level of play in the Andrew Luck era though, and will remain second-fiddle to Oregon.
Question # 2: Name me a few unknown players that could become stars this season
Charles: On the Oregon defense we could see another stud at Strong Safety emerge in Brian Jackson, and a FAST Defensive Tackle being unveiled is former JC All-American, Jared Ebert who redshirted last year. On offense for the Ducks I would offer Hamani Stevens at OG, and Evan Bayliss at TE to be candidates who could really surprise the conference.
Kurt: It seems strange that Oregon has to replace statistically the two best players in school history at their respective positions (LaMichael James-RB, Darron Thomas-QB), yet even with new starters stepping into the roles the expectation remains Pac-12 title and BCS run or bust.
What the Ducks lose in experience on offense they gain in additions on defense, in fact the 2012 UO defense may go down as the best in school history, a scary thought to opponents considering the Ducks’ ability to score on a whim.
The defense has two superstar names that will no doubt be playing on Sundays next year: John Boyett and Dion Jordan. In addition to them, senior LB Michael Clay very quietly led the Pac-12 in tackles-per-game last year and looks to do the same in 2012, while injuries forced Oregon to start two freshman cornerbacks last year that really grew into fantastic playmakers that should make life difficult on receivers for years to come, Terrance Mitchell and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
On offense Oregon must replace the quarterback, running back, tight end, and left tackle. Normally that would mean a drastic drop-off in production, but the Ducks rotate players so much they have quality talent ready to step in. The offensive line is experienced, senior Kenjon Barner takes over the starting RB role, but the big question is tight end. Depth is a concern at the position, with the only player with game experience being sophomore Colt Lyerla. The Ducks recruited multiple TE’s, but how quickly they acclimate and learn the playbook is a valid concern.
Fans are also very excited to see a trio of highly-sought wide receivers that redshirted last year to finally step on the field and wow people; Tacoi Sumler, Devon Blackmon, and BJ Kelley. Who exactly will be throwing the talented trio the ball remains a questionmark however.
Question # 3: Which team do you believe will show the greatest improvement over last season? Which team is overrated (not nearly as good as they are being made out to be)?
Charles: The most over-rated is easy, as Washington does not have the talent to make the next step that their fans are expecting. I believe the team that will have the greatest percentage improvement in their win percentage will be Washington State with new coach and passing Spread Guru, Mike Leach.
Both Cal and UCLA have tremendous talent returning, and hence the ability to surprise with good coaching, but I like how Coach Leach has his big WR and superb QB already in camp. Turnaround for the Cougars will be easier as a result.
Kurt: Washington State is the sexy pick, what Mike Leach can do with his air raid offense is very intriguing in a conference already known for innovative wide open offenses. Aside from an early season matchup with BYU their schedule is not bad, which may lead to the Cougars sneaking into the top-25 before their showdown on a neutral field in Seattle vs. Oregon (a game that ESPN College Gameday is likely to cover–who doesn’t want to see Mike Leach vs. Chip Kelly?)
With Oregon and USC still the dominant teams in the conference, Washington State looks like the best choice for a team that could surprise, particularly with the highly-underrated talents of Tuel and Wilson. Marquess Wilson is a likely Biletnikoff Award candidate this year, and Leach has proven in the past that his system is deadly when he has one top-notch receiver to play pitch-and-catch with (Welker, Crabtree).
As for over-rated, it is hard not to point directly at ASU. Every year people get excited about the Sun Devils, every year they start out fast, and every year they find a way to limp down the stretch. The change in coaches may provide optimism that the trend could change, but there’s only so many times a punchline can be told before it isn’t very funny anymore. Under Todd Graham the Sun Devils may change their approach some, but don’t expect the results to be much different in the first year. Look for the Devils to get everyone excited with an early season run, then collapse halfway through disappointing those who just jumped on the bandwagon.
Great stuff from FishDuck.com. I would like to thank Charles and Kurt for their participation and excellent answers to our PAC 12 football questions. If you get a chance please check out their site. It has some really great information on PAC 12 and Oregon football. And don’t forget to leave us your comments below. Thanks – Pez.