Popping the tab on another season of college football with a 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!), starting with the surreal circumstances surrounding Jonathan Smith’s debut at Oregon State ...
1. Saturday’s game in Columbus is about a whole lot of things, but Oregon State is way down the list.
People will be tuning in to see how Ohio State fares without Urban Meyer and how Ryan Day performs in his place. They’ll be watching to see how Buckeye fans respond to the ugliness that has engulfed their school. They’ll be watching quarterback Dwayne Haskins and trying to decide whether Ohio State is a national title contender.
The Beavers? I don’t think anyone is talking about the Beavers.
Which is exactly how they should want it.
While Ohio State was dealing with the biggest scandal in college sports, Oregon State was minding its own business, quietly working its way through preseason camp. I won’t be surprised if the Beavers look like the more focused team early in the game.
We’ll see if that translates to anything Smith can build on moving forward. Oregon State is a 38-point underdog, so it will be a massive upset if this game is close in the fourth quarter. But if the Beavers can compete for a quarter or a half, they’ll walk away believing they can hang with most of the teams on their schedule.
That might be optimistic. Writing in the Portland Tribune, longtime Oregon State observer Kerry Eggers says the Beavers will be overmatched and predicts a 48-13 final score.
2. Scanning the web, I can tell you there were a whole lot of “Who is Ryan Day?” stories published this week. To answer the question, Day is a Chip Kelly protege who played quarterback at New Hampshire when Kelly was the offensive coordinator. He didn’t spend any time at Oregon but coached quarterbacks for Kelly with both the Eagles and the 49ers before joining Ohio State’s staff last year.
The Buckeyes have two former head coaches on their staff in Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson, but they opted to have the 39-year-old Day coach the team in Meyer’s absence. Bill Landis of Cleveland.com says Day has handled the role with poise so far.
3. Speaking of Kelly, the Pac-12’s final quarterback battle ended with Michigan transfer Wilton Speight winning the job at UCLA. The 6-foot-6 Speight is more in the mold of Nick Foles or Blaine Gabbert, quarterbacks Kelly coached in the NFL, than Darron Thomas or Marcus Mariota.
I tend to think too much is made of Kelly’s reliance on running quarterbacks. Most coaches are going to go with the best guy regardless of whether he fits a particular mold. But I do think Speight winning the job is another sign that Kelly isn’t looking to turn UCLA into an Oregon clone.
4. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News knows the Pac-12 better than anyone, and he calls Washington-Auburn the league’s most significant nonconference game of the playoff era. It’s hard to argue.
A lot can change, but right now the Huskies look like they’re a cut above everyone else in the Pac-12. If they lose here, they might have to run the table for the Pac-12 to avoid a third playoff shutout in four years.
As Wilner notes, Chris Petersen’s team historically have performed well in these early season tests.
5. Petersen is trying to portray this as “one game against a really good team” and not a clash for conference supremacy. But as Adam Jude lays out here in the Seattle Times, the Pac-12 really needs Washington to step up.
I think the Huskies will be equal to the task. They have the more experienced quarterback, a better offensive line and a terrific secondary. Whether that’s enough to overcome the geographic disadvantage of playing in Atlanta is the part that gives me pause.
6. Oregon fans will be especially interested in this game. The Ducks play Auburn in next year’s season opener at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, and they recently agreed to face Georgia in the 2022 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
Saturday Down South spoke to Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan about why Pac-12 teams are suddenly interested in making the journey to Atlanta.
7. Our guest on this week’s Duck Pod was Andrew Greif of The Oregonian, soon-to-be Clippers beat writer for the LA Times. We shared memories of the past five years on the Oregon beat, discussed expectations for Mario Cristobal and pontificated about the future of sports media. Give it a listen if you’re so inclined, and read Andrew’s story about what’s driving Justin Herbert this season.
8. One Pac-12 game is already in the books, with Utah beating Weber State 41-10 Thursday night. After falling behind 10-0, the Utes ended up outgaining Weber State 587 to 59 and getting four touchdowns through the air from quarterback Tyler Huntley.
In a wide-open Pac-12 South, Utah’s hopes of winning the division could rest on an improved passing game. Seems like that’s been Utah’s story forever, but Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune saw signs that Huntley is developing into the quarterback the Utes need.
9. Two other Pac-12 teams kick off their seasons Friday night, with Stanford playing host to San Diego State and Colorado facing Colorado State in Denver. Aside from Washington, I’m not sure any Pac-12 team plays a bigger opener than the Buffaloes, who desperately need a bounceback after last year’s 5-7 finish.
The popular narrative is that Colorado squandered much of the momentum from its surprising run to the Pac-12 title game in 2016. Brian Howell of the Boulder Daily Camera notes that those gains may be appearing now in the form of recruits who signed with CU following that breakthrough season. Mike MacIntyre, who enters his sixth season at 12-33 in Pac-12 play, needs that to be the case.
10. Aside from Chip Kelly’s first game at UCLA, I doubt there’s a more anticipated debut in the Pac-12 than JT Daniels’ first start at USC. The freshman quarterback won the right to succeed Sam Darnold and will take the first snap when the Trojans face UNLV on Saturday.
J. Brady McCollough of the LA Times says Daniels has taken the starting assignment in stride and adds a nugget about injured linebacker Porter Gustin, who is on track to play in the opener.
11. A big question in the Pac-12 is how new Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin will mesh with returning quarterback Khalil Tate. Sumlin has coached some prolific quarterbacks in his career, including Case Keenum at Houston and Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. Tate appears to be the most run-oriented player of the group, which isn’t to say he can’t flourish in Sumlin’s system.
Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star interviewed some of Sumlin’s past quarterbacks to understand how the relationship develops.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, read this heartbreaking story in the LA Times about a man who lost everything in the California wildfires.