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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend

PAC-12 South Preview

The South is better than the north. There’s no sense in arguing the point, it’s a known fact. The PAC-12 is no different. I doubt they have Cracker Barrel restaurants in Arizona, and folks don’t sit on the porch drinking lemonade in Los Angeles, CA. I suspect no PAC-12 disciple has a family secret killer recipe for Fried Chicken, but, nevertheless, the PAC-12 South is stronger than the PAC-12 North. There will be a four-team logjam for the division crown and all four have legitimate expectations of winning. 577Arizona State– This is the time the Sun Devils have been waiting on. They are going to field the strongest team they’ve shown in ages. There are a have a few holes to plug, naturally, everyone has holes to plug, but they have talented plugs to fill those holes. To prove the point, look at what D.J. Foster is doing. Last year he was a Running Back, rushed for over 1,000 yards, and showed signs of greatness. There was actually talk of him being a Heisman candidate in 2015. He has given up his position at Tailback to become the Slot Back and play receiver. Why? He was one of the best receivers out of the backfield last year and ASU needs to fill a need at slot back. No doubt they will miss his running but they have two sophomores who are expected to be just as good, if not better. That’s having a lot of plugs. QB situation;- last year’s starter, Taylor Kelly, is gone. His replacement, Mike Bercovici, is a better passer than Kelly was. When Kelly went down with an injury and Bercovici stepped in, the passing game improved in 2014. Kelly was perhaps a better runner, but the Devils don’t need a running Quarterback this year. Look for Bercovici to have an outstanding season. The receiving corps lost a few people, as mentioned, but they still have talent. The line replaces two tackles but the interior is rock solid, and if the new tackles are as good as their hype, ASU could have the best O-line in the nation. Better than Alabama’s? I don’t know, but that’s the caliber line I’m talking about. Really, really good. Defense has to replace one player from their front seven, and two backs from the secondary. Last year they were good against the run and caused opposing teams to fear the Fork! Coach Todd Graham has his shot at making a statement in 2015. The fly in the ointment – there’s always a fly in the ointment – is that there were several times last year, and the years before, when ASU could have made huge statements, but for some reason, with the spotlight shining on their forked helmets, they folded. Clemsonized. No explanation, just – dare I say, “choked”? Don’t know if they couldn’t handle the pressure, or what, but they would cave. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves in the first game of the season as they take on Texas A&M in Houston Sept 5th. I am obligated to pick A&M because my daughter loves the Aggies, and I love my daughter, but this has the potential to be a breakout game for the Sun Devils. Arizona- Last year’s division champs don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t win it again. A lot of people agree and say that the Wildcats actually362 arrived a year early in 2014. Everything points to Zona having another great year. Last year’s QB, Anu Solomon, had an outstanding season – until the month of December. He had command of the offense and was able to run the read-option running game like he was born for it. This high-speed offense actually relies more on the running game than most realize, and the way it’s run causes opposing teams headaches on the migraine level. Solomon will have a reliable cast returning. The offensive line has to replace three starters, but the word is out that the replacements are just as good. Passing was spotty at times, as in, the Cats weren’t very good at it. They’ve got some fast receivers who can run and catch, but they’re not very tall. The biggest problem was QB Solomon. His decision-making was woeful at times. If he learns from those experiences and doesn’t repeat them, look for the offense to be much better. Defense should not be a problem. Actually, it might be better. Take out the month of December and the Oregon game and the defense was good in 2014r. The Wildcats had their first chance EVER to make it to the Rose Bowl, but blew it. With a year of experience under their belts, look for improvement. As an aside, Arizona needs to fire their schedule-maker. They are the only team that does not get a bye week this year. 431USC- Talk to most any sports writer and they will tell you that USC is back! Not only that, but that they are best team in the PAC-12, they’re going to make it to the playoff, and they might actually win it. When asked why that is, the common answer is that this is the first year they are off probation and therefore that equals to being back to championship form. At we don’t buy that. The Trojans may have a Heisman caliber QB in Cody Kessler, he has a strong arm, knows the offense and doesn’t make many bad decisions. He’ll have to break in a new receiving corps, which could be a problem. The running game also has to replace star Javorius Allen, who had fantastic year in 2014. The back ups got some playing time, but not too much. Talented, sure they’re talented, but completely unproven. The Offensive line has a new coach but they have all five starters returning. The offense appears to be in good shape. Last year the defense didn’t have the will to match up for 60 minutes every week, and it looked like they just quit. Nothing would please sports’ scribes more than having USC as major power again. I doubt its going to be this year. CSF’s biggest question is, what game is coach Sarkisian going to whine and cry so much that he has to call Athletic Director Pay Hayden to come down from the press box and complain to the officials that they are not treating USC very well. Last year it was the Stanford game, which one will it be this year? How is Pat Hayden still on the selection committee after that stupid stunt? How many games has Sarkisian coached drunk? I mean, he doesn’t think he has a drinking problem, but his audience did the other day, and I think he does. Pat Hayden’s going to have his work cut out for him, kinda like Barry Alvarez in Wisconsin. Coaching and Athletic Directing is tough. Utah- Not sure what was going on with Utah last year. They upset the big boys, USC, UCLA and Stanford. Then they’d have games where they UtahClemsonized. They weren’t as bad as Georgia against Florida last year, but the Utes almost were, like, the Washington State game. They can make a run for the title this season, believe it or not. They may not have the talent everyone else has, but they have heart and experience. The biggest strength will be running the ball. Last year it took Devontae Booker about three games to get his sea legs, but once he did he did great, averaging 133 yards per game. Look for the Utes to build on that and use him much more. The offensive line returns four starters and should be solid with little or no question marks. So good are they at run blocking that QB Kendal Thompson might replace last year’s starter, Travis Wilson. Thompson is better at running than Wilson. And it’s a good thing this offense loves to run the ball because the passing attack looks a bit weak. They have no potential game breaking receivers and need help filling some gaps. Did we mention that Utah likes to run the ball? Defense returns six out of seven starters on the front and the veterans need to improve. When the front seven played like their hair was on fire last year they could mess up anyone’s day. John Pease was brought back from retirement to see if he can’t coach some consistency into the defense. 055UCLA- Last year the Bruins believed their own press about QB Hundley and it cost ‘em. Hundley was pretty good at running, but his passing skills were erratic, at best. Now he’s moved on and they have to find his replacement. Freshman Josh Rosen was the clear leader of the pack in the spring; look for him to be the starter. They have good strong receivers but they need someone to get them the ball. Running was a huge strength last year, even without Hundley. They have Jr. Paul Perkins returning, and he’s looking to build on a monster year. UCLA ranked behind only Oregon in rushing, that’s pretty good. Now the big question mark, Coach Tom Bradley has been brought in to bring the train the Bruin defense. Why is he a concern? Because he was in charge of West Virginia’s defense. Have you seen West Virginia’s defense? Did the Mountaineers even have a defense? I don’t recall seeing or hearing of one. Now he’s been brought in to get UCLA’s defense in order. What am I missing here? The defense needs to shape up, no doubt about it. They’ve got returning linebackers who could be the key to whether or not the “D” improves. The backfield had to play five backs most of the year, and they’re hoping their experience will allow them to play only four backs at a time this year. They’ve got off to avoid a slow start in 2014, and they can’t continue to struggle with the Virginia’s and Memphis’s on their schedule. They have Virginia again, UNLV, and BYU right out of the gate. All three of these teams could beat UCLA. (A West Virginia Defensive coach was brought in to shape up the Bruin defense…..GEEZ! What were they thinking? That’s like asking a congressman to teach a class on how to balance the budget.)   Colorado- Not sure if anyone noticed, but, despite the Buffs going 2-10 last year, they got blown out in only two games, Oregon and Arizona. All459 the rest were competitive. Something is brewing in Boulder and it just might be trouble for the PAC-12. UC is not going to challenge for the title this year but they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. Don’t sleep on Colorado. They have a young starting core who are all back, but with experience. QB Sefo Liufau is coming off a season where he surprised everyone. The running game came around, a warning to the rest of the league – if they were paying attention. The Defense, on the other hand, ah, the curse of the PAC-12. (When you bring in a West Virginia defensive coach to improve your own defense, something is badly, sadly, wrong.) Colorado had five consecutive games where they allowed over 200 yards rushing…five games, almost half the season. As expected, that did not help their average. So Jim Leavitt, who used to coach the San Francisco 49’ers defense, and did a great job starting the program at South Florida, has been brought in with hopes of improvement. The secondary of the Buffs never really got tested all that much because other teams had such success running both the ball and the clock. One thing that stuck out last year was the fact that the Buffalos never quit; they fought every down and every play. If they can improve their defense, Coach Mike MacIntyre will have them at .500 by the season end. Considering where this football program was when he took over, that will be a major improvement.

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