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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend

PAC-12 North Preview

Out on the left coast they used to play football as more of a tourist attraction than anything else. There was always USC, and the Trojans were the favorite and the darling child of the press. They still are but they’ve fallen a bit. Up in the rainy northwest the Ducks of Oregon became the focus of the West and they’ve made the most of it, so far. The PAC-12 South is rising and the North is slipping.

247Oregon– The Ducks made a heck of a run with Heisman winner Marcus Mariota. It looked like 2014 was going to be the year of the Fighting Ducks, they came up a bit short in the National Championship game. Now they have to rebuild. The biggest challenge they have is, naturally enough, replacing Mariota. Junior Jeff Lokie is the front-runner to step in and fill the void. He had a good spring and he knows the offense, BUT, his passing ability is questionable. So Vernon Adams, from Eastern Washington, transferred over in hopes of securing the starting role. He has finally passed his test and is able to practice with the team. I’m not sure how a guy is going to join the team three weeks before their first game and be able to learn the offense, become the leader, and make the transition from division 1-AA to 1-A, become the leader in the locker room, and lead this team to victory. CSF is not buying that’s going to happen. The receiver corps is stacked with talent and whoever takes over at QB is going to have fun throwing to this group. The running component is not expected to fall much with returning Freshman of the Year, Freeman, and Jr. Tyner both coming back. The offensive line has three starters coming back and the replacements are not anything to sneeze at. The offense needs to score a lot points;- not only are the fans used to it, but this year they’re liable to need it. The biggest weakness of Oregon in 2014 was the defensive line and it’s going to be again this year. They have three returning to the front seven, and the truth be told, they’re a bit undersized compared to other contenders. The secondary has talent but they, too, lose key players. Replacements? Yes. Talent? Yes. Experience? Nope. The Ducks are going to be good, they have talent and the PAC-12 North is relatively weak this year. Going to Michigan State for the second game of the season may not turn out well. The Spartans are still mad about last year and they won’t be forgiving Oregon. Look for the Ducks to get knocked around a bit. Even with a weaker defense they’re still the pick to win the North.

Stanford- is going to reverse itself. Last year the defense was, statically speaking, very good. They had one of the best defenses in the nation 310against the run. Their front seven was stellar! The passing defense wasn’t quite up to standards, but they weren’t terrible. This year the Cardinal has to replace everybody on the defensive side of the ball. Wait! Hold it! They do have one linebacker returning, whew, that was close. Luckily, they now only have to replace ten instead of eleven. Look for the defense to be not quite as strong. Stanford’s offense wasn’t too good in 2014, to be frank. No running back has seized the reins to become the workhorse, so the Cardinal will use the run-by-committee approach. They have three, Wright, Sanders and McCaffrey. Of the three, McCaffrey has the best shot at stardom. QB Kevin Hogan will return for his third year at the helm. He has never put up great numbers, but he doesn’t have to in this offense. He is supposed to be efficient and make smart decisions, which he does. Top receiver Montgomery will be missed but there are three other receivers that have plenty of experience. The Cardinal is going to switch everything around. Instead of relying on their defense to win games, they’re going to become more offensive minded. Were they in the southern division, CSF would pick them near the bottom.

288California- What’s this? The Bears are third? Yep. The Golden Bears of Silicon Valley are moving up. Sonny Dykes has established his offense and they are proving hard to stop. The key to their success is QB Jared Goff. He had a break out year in 2014 and showed that he has command of the offense. It’s a pass happy offense, which means there have to be guys that can catch on the receiving end. Of the 8 receivers that played last year, seven are coming back. The passing attack of Cal should be just fine. The offensive line lost two starters but don’t expect there to be much of a let-down. QB Goff is known for reading a defense quickly and getting the ball out of there very fast. Running the ball for most pass happy teams is usually something to do to break the monotony. California actually is trying to improve their rushing attack. Weird, I know, but it’s true. Last year, Daniel Lasco broke the 1,000 yard barrier that no Bear has even come close to in about five years. This year he will be the featured back. They have two sophomores who got some valuable playing time last year. They can spell Lasco so he can catch his breath. Now, the Defense. Cal is never going to be mistaken for an iron curtain. It must be something in their charter that won’t allow it. But they improved last year, at least against the run. They actually ranked 4th in the PAC-12 in stopping the run. They lose three starters from the front seven, but they have a Wake Forest transfer, (not sure a “Wake Forest” transfer is a good thing, anyone seen WF’s defense?) and star DE Kyle Dragen, who missed last season due to mononucleosis, is back. Passing the ball against the Bears proved to be easy last year and this year they are hoping that their new recruits will step up and be counted. If they don’t, it’ll easy to pass on them again. Last year California lost four games by one possession, and just “missed it by that much” of making a bowl. This year the offense is aiming for shootouts and should be able to win a couple more.

Washington State- Did you know that more Cougar football players have been arrested in the last five years than at any other school in D-I? 251More than Florida State, more than Auburn, more than Tennessee. I don’t know the significance of this, but it’s something I just had to say. It’s time for the Cougars make strides in improvement. The division is weak and WSU has improved, so it’s now or never. Last year there were several games they could have won, they lost to Cal by one point, they lost to Oregon and Oregon State by 7 apiece, and Rutgers by 3. They did not do well against the Arizona schools or Stanford. But still, had they won a couple of those close games and the Cougars would have gone bowling. Mike Leach relies on a QB to have one of the most reliable arms in all of college football cause he’s going to throw A LOT! This year, there is a battle to replace Halliday. Sophomore Luke Falk stepped in when Halliday went down last year, so he’s got experience and knows the offense. He needs to cut down on turnovers. The Receiving Corps has everyone coming back, they’ve got so many that WR Keith Harrington is moving to the tailback position. If you actually think he’s doing this to take handoffs, HA! That is something that Waazu just doesn’t do. If and when they hand the ball off it confuses the lineman on what type of blocking they’re supposed to be doing. Wonder if they actually ever practice run blocking? Speaking of the line, the entire starting five return to pass block better than anyone else. Defense sometimes played very well, other times, they didn’t. They have got to do better at stopping the run and forcing some three and outs. Other schools know that the Cougars are going to move the ball. The best way to stop Wazzu is to keep the offense off the field. That’s what makes the defense so important. They have got to stop someone. Otherwise, teams will run, run, run the ball while eating up the clock. If the defense, who has a lot returning players, can stand up and stop someone, Washington State could have a winning record and go to a good bowl game.

277Washington- The second year of Chris Petersen’s tenure is going to feel like a big step back. The Huskies have to replace so many starters that it would be hard for them to mount a serious run. They have two running backs returning that got plenty of time last year, but the QB has to be replaced and the entire offensive line is being overhauled. The one returning starter, LG Charles, only started part of the season last year and he struggled mightily. They only have four receivers on scholarship. Hope no one gets injured. Look for the Huskies to struggle on offense. Look for the Huskies to struggle on defense, too. They have to replace six of the front seven, and the replacements did not get much playing time. The Secondary has a few returning starters but they are young and need to be coached up. Head Coach Petersen and his staff has their work cut out for them to come close to a winning record.

Oregon State- The best way to describe the change going on at Oregon State would be to compare it to a teenage boy going through puberty and358 realizing that he actually likes girls, only now he can’t talk to them. Longtime Head Coach Mike Riley shocked everyone by leaving and taking the job at Nebraska. (still don’t understand that hire but can be proven wrong) If that change wasn’t enough, Gary Andersen, head coach of Wisconsin, just couldn’t take the Barry Alvarez overpowering shadow anymore and bolted to Corvallis. Now the team has to change everything and we mean EVERRYTHING! The Pro-style offense is out, the spread is in. Finding a QB will be the number one concern. Open Competition was declared and two QB’s are still fighting for the position. Collens and Mitchell will most likely compete the entire season. The running backs have also yet to be determined. We may not know who’s in until they line up for the first game. Be sure to buy a program. The O-line has four returning starters, but they are learning an entirely different offense and it’s going to take time. The Defense is also changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and New Defensive Coordinator Sitake is scrapping everything and starting over. And, why not? They don’t have many returning starters, anyway. It’s going to be a long season for the Beavers, but the truth is, the Riley-led Beavers were not going anywhere in the Pac-12. Gary Andersen is a good coach, a proven coach. OSU made a good move that will pay off;- alas, it won’t be this year.


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