- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's not lonely at the bottom. At least not yet. Maybe that's a consolation.
Operating beneath the pageantry of Stanford and Oregon ranking in the top-10, and Arizona State and Washington posting impressive Pac-12 victories, are Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State: In the pits, looking up at the nine teams that, to varying degrees, still cling to preseason hopes.
Sure, UCLA could fall. And so could Washington State. But both of those squads have won multiple games. And neither has a losing conference record.
Colorado doesn't have a losing conference record but it has started 1-3 in a brutal 13-game, no-bye schedule, and things only seem to get harder. After playing the Cougars at home this weekend, the Buffs are at Stanford, at Washington and then play host to Oregon.
Arizona opened with a win over an FCS foe -- Northern Arizona -- but it has since been blown out in three straight games, pushing a losing streak against FBS competition to eight games.
Oregon State? They are jealous of the Wildcats FCS win, seeing that the Beavers opened with an embarrassing loss to one. Then they went on the road and got stomped by Wisconsin 35-zip. And in a home game last Saturday against UCLA -- a team that also was staggering -- which coach Mike Riley mostly admitted was a "must-win," the Beavers didn't.
In terms of rating yourself in the Pac-12 pecking order, losing at home to the Bruins is not a good thing. Extending into a bowl-less 2010 season, the Beavers have lost seven of eight.
So what's the problem for each of this tearful troika? And is there any hope remaining?
Glad you asked. We have the three cadavers -- "We're not dead yet!" -- oh, sorry, three, er, ill teams on the examination table right now as you read.
Diagnosis: The primary problem is the schedule, which has featured three top-10 teams: Oklahoma State, Stanford and Oregon. About 110 other teams would have gone 0-3 against that schedule. But losing by 23, 27 and 25 points is the problem. The Wildcats, a program that seemed on the cusp of a top-25 breakthrough in 2010, are clearly not good enough to play with elite teams. Injuries have been a big issue, particularly on defense, where the Wildcats have been overmatched against three of the nation's best offenses. Further, there's no running game to help QB Nick Foles, which is due in large part to five new starters on the offensive line.
Is there hope? Yes. If the Wildcats were to win at USC this weekend, that could immediately cast aside the embarrassment of the 1-3 start. "Hey," the Wildcats could think. "We're not a top-10 team. But there's no reason we can't win eight games and play in a nice bowl game." But even a competitive performance in the Coliseum could offer some hope. With seven games remaining after the Trojans, the Wildcats could be favored in four (at Oregon State, UCLA, at Colorado and Louisiana-Lafayette). That means getting to six wins and bowl eligibility is not unreasonable, even after a potential 1-4 start. The key is the Wildcats sticking together in the locker room. And it would help if they got healthy.
Diagnosis: New coaches. New systems. Questionable talent that is accustomed to losing. Some key injuries, including the starting center quitting. A team that has a road-phobia playing in two tough road environments. A flaccid running game. It would have been nice if the Jon Embree Era could have started with a couple of directional schools in Folsom Field, with a bye perhaps thrown in around week five or six, but that's not how things worked out.
Is there hope? You'll know Saturday when Washington State comes to town. Because of a 13-game schedule, the Buffs need seven wins to earn bowl eligibility. You'd have to assume that one of them must be at home against the Cougars. Lose, and it's hard to imagine this team winning five games.
Diagnosis: Even without all the injuries, Oregon State had issues, starting with both lines. But injuries have been a major problem for a team without a ton of depth: WR James Rodgers, TE Joe Halahuni, CB Brandon Hardin, DT Kevin Frahm, DT Dominic Glover (academics), RB Malcolm Agnew, OG Josh Andrews, etc. Then there was a surprising QB change from Ryan Katz, widely seen as an up-and-coming talent based on his 2010 performance, to redshirt freshman Sean Mannion. Further, a supposed team strength -- the secondary -- has been surprisingly poor, see a 119th ranking in passing efficiency defense. And the Beavers haven't even played good passing teams yet.
Is there hope? There's always hope, right? But we're not predicting a turnaround or a bowl game for the Beavers. They have dates with three ranked teams ahead and two are on the road: at Arizona State on Saturday, Stanford on Nov. 5 and at Oregon on Nov. 26. There also are road trips to California and Utah, and a visit to Washington State shouldn't seem easy considering the Cougars beat the Beavers last year. And home games with Arizona and BYU don't look like cakewalks, either. The South Division misses -- Colorado and USC (the Beavers have won three of five against the Trojans) -- don't seem terribly opportune. Oregon State should get better on offense with Rodgers and Halahuni back, not to mention Agnew and Andrews. But optimism here would be a choice, not a reasoned position.
It's not lonely at the bottom. At least not yet. Maybe that's a consolation.Operating beneath the pageantry of Stanford and Oregon ranking in the top-10, and Arizona State and Washington posting impressive Pac-12 victories, are Arizona, Colorado and Oregon State: In the pits, looking up at the nine teams that, to varying degrees, still cling to preseason hopes.