Popping the tab on another 12-pack of stories from the Pac-12 (and beyond!) starting with Oregon-Stanford, the main event on this weekend’s college football schedule ...
1. I have a feeling the nation is going to learn something about Mario Cristobal this weekend.
We’re all going to learn something about Cristobal as a coach. And for those who aren’t familiar, this game could be an introduction to one of the unique stories in college football.
The R-G’s Ryan Thorburn told that story well in our preseason football preview. Cristobal’s family fled Cuba in the 1960s to escape the Fidel Castro regime. He nearly became a Secret Service officer before deciding to pursue a career in coaching. He became the first Cuban-American head coach in FBS history at Florida International and the first at a Power 5 school at Oregon.
Dennis Dodd of CBS provides some amusing anecdotes here, writing about Cristobal’s background as an MMA fighter and a former PR job that required him to drive around with someone in a Garfield costume.
2. The Oregonian’s John Canzano writes here that Cristobal is preparing his team by showing them footage of a classic boxing match between Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward. That fits everything we know about Cristobal’s coaching philosophy and the kind of team he wants to build.
It’s too soon to say whether Cristobal’s approach will lead to long-term success in Eugene, but I appreciate his no-nonsense demeanor. And on a personal note, I especially appreciate his straightforward approach to discussing injuries after years of gamesmanship from Oregon coaches.
Past Oregon coaches seemed to enjoy being evasive about the status of injured players, which accomplished little other than annoying fans and media and occasionally putting players in awkward positions. Rarely did it provide a competitive advantage that I could observe.
One rationale I heard was that, by answering injury questions, coaches would open a Pandora's Box whereby every news conference would be dominated by reporters asking about injuries. Hopefully Cristobal’s first few games have debunked that theory. He gets one or two injury questions in each availability, answers them succinctly and directly, and everyone moves on. If only all coaches made it so easy.
3. David Shaw gave a succinct answer when asked about the status of running back Bryce Love, who missed last week’s game against UC Davis with an undisclosed injury.
“Bryce is great,” Shaw told the R-G’s Steve Mims. “He’s ready to go, fired up to go.”
It appears the decision to hold Love out last week was mostly a precautionary one. That’s a good call if you’re looking out for a guy’s long-term health and trying to keep him fresh for the games that matter. The only way it could hurt him is in the Heisman race, as he missed the chance to rack up some rushing yards against a lower-level defense.
I’ll applaud Stanford for being careful with a guy who turned down NFL money to play another year in college, and I’ll hope Heisman voters are nuanced enough to look beyond the overall numbers. If Love ends up in a close race, I won’t penalize him for not padding his stats against an FCS opponent.
4. Ryan and I broke down the matchup in detail on this week’s Duck Pod, and we agree that defending wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside could pose as big a challenge for the Ducks as containing Love. Arcega-Whiteside, who stands 6-foot-3, has five touchdown receptions in three games. Oregon’s starting DBs are 5-10, 5-11, 5-11 and 6-1.
I picked the Cardinal 27-24. Ryan picked Oregon by the same score. Regardless of the outcome, I see this as a measuring stick for the Ducks and not a make-or-break game. If they lose this game and win their next two against Cal and Washington, no one will see that as a failure.
5. It’s been a rough week for Chips in the Pac-12.
Michael Robinson, the father of UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, called out Chip Kelly on Twitter after Thompson-Robinson completed 10 of 24 passes for 151 yards in a loss to Fresno State that dropped the Bruins to 0-3.
“It is all about the coaching, lousy coaching and play calling,” Michael Robinson posted on Twitter. “Coaching that is so bad that it demands closed practices. … Million dollar coach who bares (sic) no responsibility. … Just random observations from a frustrated dad!”
Robinson called Kelly’s success at Oregon a “fluke” and wrote that he “stood on the shoulders of the actual play callers” — though Kelly did call plays for the Ducks, both as an offensive coordinator and head coach.
6. Kelly shrugged off the criticism when asked about it on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference.
“I have no response,” he said. “I mean, everybody’s entitled to their opinion; that’s what’s the great thing about sports. When you win, people say good things and when you don’t win, people don’t say good things. That’s life, you know?”
The Bruins have a bye week before they travel to Boulder to face Colorado. Maybe that will give them time to fix an offense that ranks No. 115 in the FBS in total yards, No. 99 in passing yards, No. 103 in rushing yards and No. 119 in scoring.
7. Like I said, rough week for Chip. But at least he didn’t shoot himself in the cashews with a T-shirt cannon at close range. (That we know of!)
8. Following up on an item from last week’s 12-pack, former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser resigned his fundraising position at the school after more allegations of inappropriate behavior.
That came after The Spokesman-Review reported on a complaint from a former WSU athlete who said Gesser made sexual advances while she was serving as a nanny for his children. Gesser was placed on administrative leave Monday and resigned a day later.
Original credit for breaking this story goes to the Daily Evergreen, WSU’s student newspaper. Gesser dismissed the original reporting as a “non-story” and WSU released a statement saying it investigated Gesser and found no violations of university policy. Makes you wonder how thoroughly they investigated if more claims surfaced so quickly.
9. A sneaky-fun game on this week’s Pac-12 slate is Arizona at Oregon State.
The Beavers lost a wild one against Nevada last week when they missed a late field goal after a furious rally. They’re 1-2, but it appears Jonathan Smith is already doing more with Oregon State’s offense than Gary Andersen ever did.
After ranking last in the Pac-12 in total offense a year ago, the Beavers lead the conference at 527 yards per game. That’s despite losing starting quarterback Jake Luton to injury and playing one of the league’s toughest schedules, including road games at Ohio State and Nevada.
Arizona is favored by almost a touchdown, but the Wildcats haven’t been impressive. I give Smith a decent chance to grab a Pac-12 win on his first try.
On a side note, Nick Daschel of The Oregonian wrote about Oregon State’s Turnover Chainsaw, the latest sideline gimmick handed out to a player who forces a takeaway. Though this trend has largely run its course, the Turnover Chainsaw seems far more appropriate than Florida State’s dopey backpack.
10. Quick: Who’s your pick to win the Pac-12 South?
For lack of a better option, I guess I’ll stick with my preseason pick of USC. The Trojans opened the door by starting 1-2, but I don’t see another team I’d elevate above them right now. (Colorado, which visits USC Oct. 13, might be the best candidate at the moment.)
The pressure is back on USC coach Clay Helton, who never seems far from the hot seat. He needs a bounceback in Pac-12 play starting Friday night against Washington State.
J. Brady McCollough of the LA Times pinpoints one source of struggle for the Trojans: an offensive line that hasn’t performed up to expectations.
11. The other Pac-12 game this week features Washington as a big favorite at home against Arizona State.
Chris Petersen is an admirer of ASU coach Herm Edwards, but as Scott Hanson of The Seattle Times writes here, the two coaches occupy opposite sides of the personality spectrum.
12. And finally, in your weekly reminder that there’s more to life than sports, I recommend two pieces from The Washington Post. The first comes from Geoff Edgers, who wrote an illuminating profile of Chevy Chase in exile.
The second comes from Elizabeth Bruenig, who for my money is one of the best writers working today. Her story investigating a sexual assault at her Texas high school is a difficult read, but it couldn’t be more timely.