TUSCALOOSA, AL – SEPTEMBER 21: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide shakes hands with head coach Jim McElwain of the Colorado State Rams after their 31-6 win at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 21, 2013 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Pac-12 may be, pound for pound, the deepest conference in college football. And that’s the problem.
A conference with nine good teams and zero great ones creates a thrilling week-to-week product, and a weak one when it comes to reaching the College Football Playoff. As we saw last season.
With no generational quarterback around to run the conference, 2016 shapes up more like 2015 than 2014.
1. Washington (7-6, 4-5 Pac-12): Most often, the off-season hype is wrong, fodder for the sake of fodder to get us through the long night that is the off-season. I don’t think this is one of those times. The Huskies don’t have Christian McCaffrey, but they have the best defense in the league, the best quarterback in the division and a coaching staff good enough to win the whole damn league.
2. Stanford (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12): It feels like a sign of disrespect to pick against the machine David Shaw helped build, and then maintain and elevate after Jim Harbaugh‘s departure. Especially when they have the game’s sharpest Swiss Army knife. Come to think of it, why are they No. 2 again?
3. Oregon (9-4, 7-2 Pac-12): The Ducks can score on anybody. The question: can they stop anyone? Not even new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is sure of that answer.
4. Washington State (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12): Last year was a grand success for Wazzu. The Cougars won nine games, claimed twice as many Pac-12 games as they lost and stayed in the divisional race deep into the season. Another season like 2015 would be an even grander one.
5. California (8-5, 4-5 Pac-12): As we saw Friday night, Davis Webb may be the only thing standing between this team and an empty December.
6. Oregon State (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Poor, poor Gary Andersen. He leaves one of college football’s most stable winners for one of its heftiest rebuilds. Check back in 2018.
1. UCLA (8-5, 5-4 Pac-12): Jim Mora is the only coach to recruit on the same level as USC in the Pac-12 South. And USC has the nation’s most difficult schedule. Add in that plus Josh Rosen and you get yet another Pac-12 title game loss for the Bruins.
2. Utah (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12): Utah won more total games than any team in the Pac-12 South last season, they shared the division championship with USC and they have the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference. So, why aren’t I picking them? In the Pac-12, always side with quarterbacks.
3. USC (8-6, 6-3 Pac-12): The most talented overall roster in the conference, but the worst schedule in the nation. Alabama, Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA on the road, plus Oregon and Notre Dame coming to the Coliseum? Yikes.
4. Arizona (7-6, 3-6 Pac-12): Arizona won’t win the Pac-12 South as they did in 2014. But they won’t be as snake bit as they were last season, either. Eight wins, with four of five coming in conference play, feels right.
5. Colorado (4-9, 1-8 Pac-12): If you want to wow your friends with your brave prognostications, make it this: Colorado will play in a bowl game this fall.
6. Arizona State (6-7, 4-5 Pac-12): Todd Graham had better hope this (entirely worthless) prediction doesn’t come true. After back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013-14, falling to last place in the division would scratch the trigger finger of Sun Devils AD and former NFL executive Ray Anderson something fierce.
When last we left T.J. Edwards, there was no timetable for the Wisconsin linebacker’s return. With the opener just a handful of days away, there’s been some clarification to Edwards’ status.
Late last week, Edwards was left off the two-deep depth chart released by the Badgers, a clear sign that the redshirt junior would be unavailable for Saturday’s game against LSU at Lambeau Field. Monday, head coach Paul Chryst officially ruled Edwards out of the Big Ten-SEC matchup.
Edwards suffered a broken foot over the summer and did not participate at all during camp. It remains unclear whether Edwards will be healthy enough for UW’s Week 2 matchup with Akron in the home opener. If the school continues to err on the side of caution, they could hold Edwards out of that game and the following week’s contest against Georgia State targeting a return for the Big Ten opener against Michigan State Sept. 24 in East Lansing.
As a redshirt sophomore last season, Edwards started all 13 games. He led the Badgers in tackles with 84 in 2015, while his 6.5 tackles for loss were fourth.
On the Edwards-less depth chart, redshirt junior Jack Cichy (four career starts) and true sophomore Chris Orr (six career starts) are listed as the two starting inside linebackers.
If there was ever a season the Big Ten looked like the Big Two and the Little Ten, this was it. Michigan State is reloading, while the rest of the conference scraps for space amongst themselves as Ohio State and Michigan take off into their own stratosphere.
Here’s a quick glance at how we think the Big Ten shakes out.
1. Ohio State (12-1 overall in 2015, 7-1 Big Ten): Losing all but six of your 22 starters would be a problem for anyone but Ohio State. If the 2014 team played like a pack of lions, the 2015 bunch was a pack of lions playing with a belly full of antelope: the ability was there, the desire wasn’t. This year’s group is just as talented, they just haven’t had the chance to prove it yet.
2. Michigan (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Many think next year will be The Year for Michigan. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t like working on other people’s timelines. I like this year’s team to lose to Ohio State but still reach the College Football Playoff.
3. Michigan State (12-2, 7-1 Big Ten): Seemingly every year Michigan State reaches a height previously thought to be unattainable, but last year’s second-in-three-years Big Ten championship and CFP appearance feels like the farthest Mark Dantonio can take this team now that Michigan is no longer out to a decade-long lunch.
4. Penn State (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten): With college football’s most miserable marriage of James Franklin and Christian Hackenberg at long last over, this should be the year Penn State starts to look like the Penn State Franklin wants it to be, especially with Joe Moorhead running the offense. The residual effects of the sanctions, though, say 2017 may be more like it.
5. Maryland (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Might as well place a giant “Under Construction” sign out side the program as D.J. Durkin works to build Maryland into a program after Jim Harbaugh‘s image.
6. Rutgers (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Ditto as above, but with an even larger “Under Construction” sign and Harbaugh’s mug crossed out from it and Urban Meyer‘s pasted crudely on top.
7. Indiana (6-7, 2-7 Big Ten): Kevin Wilson has done some nice things in Bloomington. He’s run the ball as well as anyone in the conference, he put a scare into Ohio State last season and he took the Hooisers to a bowl game. The rest of the Big Ten East is getting better, though, and Indiana is, well, Indiana.
WEST (A.K.A.: THE BIGGEST TOSS-UP IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL)
1. Nebraska (6-7, 3-5 Big Ten): In a division that will largely come down to who gets lucky at the right time, go with a team whose luck is due to flip after losing six one-score games in 2015.
2. Northwestern (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Normally Northwestern takes a tumble after Pat Fitzgerald‘s bunch builds to a 10-win peak, needing to reload after losing the bulk of a senior-laden team. The 2016 Wildcats bring back enough to contend again.
3. Iowa (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten): Kirk Ferentz‘s teams zig when they’re supposed to zag, and zag when they’re supposed to zig. Last year’s undefeated regular season, coming one stop shy of an improbable Cotton Bowl run, was a zig. Most expect the Hawkeyes to zig again this year. We know better.
4. Wisconsin (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Feels like Paul Chryst, while a solid coach, will only take the Badgers to heights seen previously under Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema, but not above them.
5. Illinois (5-7, 2-6 Big Ten): New AD Josh Whitman made a bold move in hiring longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith to head a program to which he had no prior connection. Building the Illini to a contender will take time, but keeping Wes Lunt healthy may be all Illinois needs to reach a bowl game this fall.
6. Minnesota (6-7, 2-6 Big Ten): ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has the Gophers winning the Big Ten West. I’m willing to be wrong in saying he’ll be way, way wrong.
7. Purdue (2-10, 1-7 Big Ten): Make no mistake: this is a make or break year for Darrell Hazell, especially with new AD Mike Bobinski now in place. I think he’ll break.
Chad Wheeler will not start at left tackle for USC in their opener against top-ranked Alabama, Clay Helton confirmed Monday night.
Instead, the head coach announced during a radio appearance, Chuma Edoga will be charged with protecting the blindside of the first-year starter at quarterback, Max Browne, against one of the top defensive lines in the country. Wheeler has been dealing with a lingering foot injury — plantar fasciitis, to be specific — that’s kept him sidelined for most of summer camp.
Helton allowed that Wheeler could play “a couple of series” against the Tide, although that would, outside of an extreme emergency, seem unlikely.
Wheeler, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, has started 34 games the past three seasons. As a true freshman last season, the 6-4, 290-pound Edoga started two games at right tackle and played in 13 games total.
Helton also announced that linebacker Osa Masina has been suspended for the opener and will not travel to Arlington for the neutral-field game. Masina played in 12 games as a true freshman last season, and was credited with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. The highlight of his first season as a Trojan was a fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas State.
On the preseason depth chart released a week ago, Masina was listed as a backup to starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings.