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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend

Pac-12 – North

Out west the schools of the PAC-12 are trying to make a case that they are just as good as the SEC. To be quite honest, is a bit partial to southern conference. Having said that, No, the Pac-12 is not up to the SEC level, but they are the second toughest conference. So, good job! In the Northern half of the league, Nike-sponsored Oregon is expecting great things in 2014. Stanford will still rely on out-muscling everyone, Washington has a new coach, Oregon State wants to get out of the middle of the pack, Washington State expects to be a spoiler, and California just wants to improve.
1.   Oregon got a huge boost last spring when Marcus Mariota announced that he was coming back for his senior year. All the Ducks cheered! In 2013 he had a partial tear of his MCL and there’s talk that this is the reason they lost to Stanford and Arizona. Maybe it contributed to the losses, but there were plenty of other contributing factors. But before we get into that, Mariota coming back really is a gift-wrapped present Ducksfor the Ducks. They need him for their warp-speed offense to be effective. He put up unreal numbers in rushing and in throwing. He is effective and runs the offense like a fine-tuned machine. OU relies on speed, speed, and more speed. Behind Mariota will be Byron Marshall ( 1,038 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Thomas Tyner,( 711 yards, 9 touchdowns) they will split time and try to alleviate the loss of workhorse De’Anthony Thomas. Both runners are very fast and have proven they are productive in the fast-paced offense. Oregon did suffer a major blow in the spring, when stand out receiver Bralon Addison went down with an ACL injury and was lost for the season. You have to expect the bad with the good. The Fightin’ Ducks do have an experienced tight end and some young receivers who will have a lot riding on them. Oregon cannot afford to become a one-dimensional team relying on the running game. They aren’t built on predictability. If the receivers don’t measure up to their potential, it might make Mariota regret his decision. Two reasons why the Ducks tumbled last year was, 1) their attitude;- they thought they just had to show up and the game was over. Stanford didn’t buy that and neither did the Arizona Wildcats. 2) the Offensive line was manhandled in both those games. If the line can’t keep enemy personnel out of their own backfield, all the shenanigans Mariota and the Ducks plan to perpetrate are disrupted. The Cardinal have beaten them two years in a row and both times they were able to penetrate the line of scrimmage and disrupt the flow of this timing-based offense. The entire offensive line returns and in the offseason they have invaded every all-you-can-eat buffet in Eugene and hit the weight room with a purpose. Granted, they can’t get too big and still be able to move at the speed required, but they’re trying to find that happy medium. If they do, Oregon’s offense will be very difficult to slow down, much less stop. The “Nike Team” is going to need to score a lot (like they don’t already) because their defense is expected to see a bit of a drop, not all the way to the cellar, but a bit. Six starters need to be replaced, plus they have a new defensive coordinator. Against the Big Boys they’ve got to get better. When OU loses its because they don’t stop foes on third and fourth downs. Stanford converted 15 of 22 third downs, and Arizona hit on 12 for 17. The line loses two and their replacements are talented, – duh -, but not turning anyone’s head. The secondary was hit the hardest, just where they could ill afford to get hit. Oregon is a boutique team, fun to watch, and it’s worked out great except when they come up against one of their power-minded foes. We’ll quickly find out if the Quackers have improved in this area.
Toughest Games:
Sept. 6th – Michigan State- The Spartans are nothing but a power team, they don’t even know the definition of boutique.
Oct. 2nd- Arizona- the Wildcats showed they are not scared of the Ducks.
Nov. 1st – Stanford- Can Oregon break the streak?
2.   Stanford;- it was difficult not to put the Cardinal at the top of list;- after all, they’ve won the PAC-12 for the past two years, and dashed StanfordOregon’s national hopes both times. The Stanford schedule is too tough and they have WAAAYYY too many players to replace. The “Tree Team” with the unusual band has been a power-based bunch. If any team on the Pacific coast mirrors the SEC, it’s this one. They might not have the horses they need this year. They have four backs who are projected to split time until someone separates himself as the featured ball carrier. The four are;- Barry Sanders Jr, (everyone is hoping he’s just like his father, but that’s not fair), Kelsey Young, Ricky Seale and Remound Wright. None are patsies, but they seem to be a bit less then what’s preceded them. Four offensive linemen must also be replaced. Coach Shaw had the luxury of filling all four of those slots by the start of spring training. The recruits from the ballyhooed 2012 recruiting class and left tackle Andrus Peat filled in nicely They still have to prove themselves, of course, – but they’re looking good. Returning under center will be Kevin Hogan. He’s done well, but he’s got to stop turning the ball over. Ten interceptions add up. If every interception equals a forty-yard loss (I believe The Bear said that), then Stanford has to gain at least four hundred yards to break even. The Cardinal will be looking to throw the ball more this year, like when they had John Elway. Even with these question marks, the Offense will be tough. Defense is where they suffered the most losses. Start with the loss of Defensive Coordinator Derek Mason. He left to take the head coaching job at Vanderbilt (and was embarrassed by a one-sided loss to Temple in his head-coaching debut). Stanford is known for promoting from within and that’s just what they did to replace Mason. Linebacker coach Lance Anderson got the nod to move up. Trent Murphy, the 2013 rage of PAC-12 defenses, will be hard to replace. A.J. Tarpley, a fifth year senior, has been the leading tackler for the past three seasons and he’ll be taking on the leadership role. There are too many holes to fill, but if any program can do it, this one can. Stanford has been built from the ground up and it’s paid off. They’ve recruited well, they’re well-coached, they’re smart, and they stay motivated. So, are they second-best, or not? We’ll see.
Toughest Games:
Sept 6th- USC- second game of the season will be one heck of a test for the young ones wearing Cardinal
Oct. 18th – Arizona State- the Sun Devils run the field fast and furiously
Nov. 1st – Oregon- The Ducks would like nothing better than to taste a little revenge
3.   Who’s going to be third, fourth and fifth? It’s pretty much a toss-up, Washington, Washington State and Oregon State are all pretty Washingtonevenly matched. Let’s go with Washington. Steve Sarkisian left the Huskies for sunny South California and the “W” was able to persuade Chris Petersen to leave Boise State. Coach Petersen has already made waves in the off season with his coaching style and what he expects from the team. Will this translate into wins this season? Don’t know. Gone is QB Keith Price and Jeff Lindquist should be taking the lead role. Peterson has already said he won’t name a starter until before the first game, though. Behind the QB will be Deontae Cooper, who is more than ready to run the rock down the field. The receivers need to be replaced and so does their award-winning tight end. Both lines are experienced. Defense looks a little weak but they’ve got some young. Petersen is preaching team chemistry, trust and discipline. He’s done well on establishing discipline, but when discipline is needed it usually takes a bit before it produces results.
Toughest Games:
Sept. 27th – Stanford- Washington usually gives Stanford a tough game
Oct. 18th – Oregon- Can Peterson beat the Ducks again?
Nov. 15th – Arizona- The Wildcats appear to be loaded for Bear. (Yes that’s a pun on their cry of “Bear Down”, I couldn’t resist)
4.   Washington State is next, but they could have beaten out Washington, if they hadn’t run into Rutgers in their first game. The pirate, Mike Washington StateLeach, feels his tough love message has taken root. The Cougars return quite a few starters who have all learned their trade under Leach. Quarterback Connor Halliday has shown that he has a good gasp of the “Air Raid” offense and has set a few records along the way. He’ll have plenty of receivers to call upon. Running back Marcus Mason is good and can catch the ball coming out of the backfield. The “O” line loses three but their replacement all have starting experience. The offensive looks set. On the other side of the ball, seven starters return, which means, they must replace…hmmm…carry the one….Five, they replace five. (I’ve got this math thing down pat). It’s an opportunistic defense that works at generating turnovers. They created 30 last year, second most in the PAC-12, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll produce again. The line and linebackers are set, secondary might be a little…what’s the word?…weak. So much so that Sebastian LaRue, a receiver last year, is a corner back. At least he knows how to catch the ball. Even with questions and inferior talent CSF would not be surprised if Cougars upset a few people this year.
Toughest Games:
Sept. 20th – Oregon- last year the scorekeeper had a tough time keeping up.
Oct. 10th – Stanford- Always a tough one.
and then all five games after Stanford.
5.   Oregon State- Oregon’s other school. The Beavers didn’t end well last year, losing five straight, but they did beat Boise State in Hawaii. QB Sean Mannion has been passing well, so much so that he’s less than 2,000 yards away from being the number one QB in all of OSU’s Oregon Statehistory. Hopefully he’ll make it this year. He lost his favorite target, Brandin Cooks, the ’13 Biletnikoff award winner. Reports from spring training are that the new receivers didn’t do much to impress the coaches. The Beavers don’t move the ball much overland. Storm Woods (that’s a cool name) and Terron Ward, ( not so much a cool name) are their ballcarriers. The offensive line is shaky at best. Tight End Dustin Stanton moved to left tackle. He weighs, at best, 255lbs. Nowadays, 255lbs is good for a tight end but a bit light on being a left tackle. Should be interesting. Defense is solid, at least, PAC-12 solid. The defensive line is good and linebackers are quick and experienced. In the pass- happy west coast league having a good secondary is a must and OSU doesn’t have one. Only Stanford relies on the run along the left coast. That isn’t a typo. West Coast, left coast, get it? I’d explain it to you, but, then, you’d want a cup of coffee and a recycled toothpick. Ah, forget it. Oregon State will win games, maybe even enough for a bowl berth.
Toughest Games:
We’re going with all PAC-12 games.
6.   California had a bad year in 2013, they had brought in Sonny Dykes to inject some life into a stagnant program, but it didn’t work out that way. They beat Portland State, so they did have a victory. The injury bug bit the Bears pretty hard, ate ‘em alive. The good news is that there’s room for improvement. Barring injuries, the offensive and defensive lines should be in good shape and have plenty of depth. The Bears should show better on offense in 2014 if they buy into Sonny Dykes’ philosophy. Four starters on defense missed almost the entire schedule last year because of injuries. Now they’re healthy. It’s not going to be easy but look for Cal to be a much better team.
Toughest Games:
Sacramento State might not be as tough as the others.

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