My weekly mailbag returns! We're keeping them tighter this season, so I'll only hit two or three questions per mailbag. But that doesn't mean we still can't have a little fun (see question No. 1)
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To the Notes!
Costi in Phoenix writes: While a lot of optimism always inevitably floats around at the beginning of the season (which I love of course). I want the pessimistic side of your analysis as well. I want to know what team or teams do you think is most likely to underwhelm, fall well short of expectations, or simply just surprise people with how thin or bad they are? I mean sure the bears and buffs are most likely to be the worst teams at the end of the season, but everyone expects that. Which Pac 12 team projected to contend is most likely to fall well short of expectations?
Kevin Gemmell: That's no fun! This is the one time of year when everyone is undefeated. Why would you possibly want me to take that away from them?
This is going to sound like a blanket statement ... and it is ... because it's true. Every team in the Pac-12 is capable of exceeding or falling short of expectations. Too much happens over the course of a season -- including a nine-game conference schedule -- for us to sit here in Week 1 and say something is definitively going to happen.
But since Costi in Phoenix wants to be Buzz Killington, I guess we'll go through a quick worst-case scenario for every team in the league. (While paying homage to Ted Miller).
Arizona: Anu Solomon is just mediocre and the Wildcats play quarterback roulette throughout the year, giving them another six or seven win season. And they lose to ASU. Taylor Kelly wins the Heisman. Arizona loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.
ASU: The defense never quite catches up to the offense. The Sun Devils score a lot of points, but they give up a lot also. They hit a four game losing streak against UCLA, USC, Stanford and Washington and lose at home to Notre Dame. And they lose to Arizona. They go to a bowl game, but it's a step backwards from last season. Anu Solomon wins the Heisman. RichRod hires Mike Norvell as his offensive coordinator.
Cal: They play like 2013 Cal. Kevin Hogan wins the Heisman.
Colorado: They play like 2012 Colorado. Travis Wilson wins the Heisman.
Oregon: The Ducks lose to Stanford, Washington and Oregon State. The defense and offensive line takes guff for not being physical enough. Sean Mannion wins the Heisman. Oregon loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.
Oregon State: The run game the Beavers so badly want to establish never really gets off the ground. Sean Mannion breaks the conference passing record, but that's overshadowed by a 6-6 finish. Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman and Oregon State loses to Texas in the Cactus Bowl.
Stanford: The critics are finally right and the Cardinal take a step backwards. No one really emerges as a reliable running back and the Cardinal fall to Oregon, Washington and UCLA to close out 9-3. Jared Goff wins the Heisman. David Shaw leaves for the NFL. Stanford loses to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
UCLA: The Bruins can't answer the hype, falling to Oregon, Stanford and USC. Brett Hundley finishes fifth in the Heisman race, with the award going to Cody Kessler. Nick Saban attends Steve Sarkisian's coaching clinic on up-tempo offenses, proclaiming it all the rage. The Bruins lose to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
USC: An early loss to Stanford sets the tone for an eight-win season, which includes losses to UCLA, Notre Dame and ASU. Brett Hundley wins the Heisman and the national championship. A bad year in the SEC leaves an opening for one of their bowl games, and Alabama beats the Trojans in the Belk Bowl. USC's defense has no answer for the onslaught of bubble screens.
Utah: The Utes miss the postseason for the third straight year -- the seventh pivotal loss coming in the finale to Colorado -- and the heat is officially on Kyle Whittingham. BYU advances to the College Football Playoff.
Washington: The Huskies flip through several quarterbacks trying to find the right combination. And despite a top-notch defense, the offense just can't score enough points. It's another seven-win season with losses to Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State Washington State and ASU. Marcus Mariota and Connor Halliday split the Heisman.
Washington State: After taking a step forward last year and qualifying for a bowl game, the Cougars are unable to reach the postseason, following several tough losses -- including Washington in the Apple Cup. Cyler Miles wins the Heisman. Mike Leach decides to adopt the triple-option.
Craig in Independence, Oregon, writes: Do you think Sean Mannion and Marcus Mariota will be NFL quarterback(s)? Both seem to have the physical make-up of one but are they NFL material?
Kevin Gemmell: Barring any disastrous injuries or off-field incidents this season, both will be drafted -- maybe both in the first round. And if you've been reading any 2015 draft material, Mariota is likely a top five pick.
Let's start with Mannion. As many coaches have told me over the last few months, he's the prototypical NFL quarterback in terms of size and frame. That he knows a pro-style system and can work under center is only going to benefit him as he adjusts to the next level.
The big knock on Mannion is that he doesn't fit the new mold of the uber-athletic dual-threat quarterback. That's not his game. And while some NFL GMs are enamored by this, there are still plenty out there who believe in the 3-5-7-step drop and poise in the pocket. Mannion has that. He delivers a deep ball as well as anyone in the conference. He's accurate and his decision-making improved a lot last season. Expecting to see major gains there in 2014.
Mannion probably won't be taken in the top 10. But if he goes late in the first or second round, and has a year or two to sit, he could end up making an NFL GM look very, very smart in three or four years.
As for Mariota, he's the do-everything kind of guy. His athleticism alone makes him a high draft pick. He's built for any system, which is what makes him so appealing.
So to answer your question, yes, both are NFL material.