Pac-12: Central Arkansas Bears

We're taking a look at the can't-miss games of the 2013 Pac-12 season. The Ultimate Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 2.

Thursday, Sept. 5
  • Sacramento State at Arizona State
Saturday, Sept. 7
  • Weber State at Utah
  • Oregon at Virginia
  • Portland State at California
  • Hawaii at Oregon State
  • Central Arkansas at Colorado
  • Arizona at UNLV
  • Washington State at USC
  • San Jose State at Stanford
My choice: Washington State at USC

Why: Anyone else still recovering from last week's excitement? Fourth-and-1 with 35 seconds left and down by a touchdown, Boise State calls a QB sneak at the Washington 40-yard line to keep a drive alive. After a controversial spot, there is a replay and it's called back. Oh, sweet irony! Washington's defense holds, turnover on downs, Huskies win 24-17 and have a week to relax before heading to Soldier Field.

As for Week 2, Pac-12 play is upon us. Yeah, it happens that fast. The first Pac-12 conference game of the year features Washington State -- still giddy after Connor Halliday and Gabe Marks connected for four touchdowns in the surprisingly easy road win over Auburn -- traveling to a 1-0 and well-tanned USC team. (The Cougars owe me a makeup for my BYU pick last year. Don't let me down.)

The Trojans haven't lost to the Cougars at home since 2000. And it's a safe bet that USC will probably be double-digit favorites in this game. But it's also the first time USC will be facing the Cougars in the Mike Leach era -- and the Pac-12 blog is expecting some improvement out of Washington State in 2013. Recall that while USC ranked third in pass defense last year, they were middle of the road in pass efficiency defense, allowing 20 touchdowns in the air while quarterbacks completed 60.4 percent of their throws against the Trojans. Not horrible numbers, but not lockdown, either.

Looking at the rest of the Week 2 lineup, there isn't a lot of intrigue with four FCS teams on the docket. Then again, the league has lost to an FCS team two straight years -- so nothing can be taken for granted. San Jose State/Stanford was tight last year, and as it turned out, the Spartans were a pretty darn good team under one Mike MacIntyre -- and the dangerous connection of quarterback David Fales to receiver Noel Grigsby is intact. But MacIntyre is gone, Ron Carragher is in (along with former Washington assistant Jimmie Dougherty as offensive coordinator) so we'll have to see if the Spartans can keep things rolling post-Mac.

Still, we're road tripping to L.A. since it's the first Pac-12 conference game of the year and we're banking on Sacramento State's two-game win streak against the league to end in Tempe. Plus, USC's choice of quarterback is going to be an intriguing storyline to follow all season. And, if anything, I hear the Transformers 3-D ride at Universal Studios is supposed to be pretty sweet.
Only six more mailbags until media day, so enjoy each one.

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To the notes!

Greg in Los Angeles writes: Which team makes the biggest turnaround from 2012? Is it Cal with a new staff? Colorado which could double (triple?) it's win total from last year? Does USC do a 180 from it's previous miserable performance? (And no poll would be complete without an 'Oregon' option)

Kevin Gemmell: Are those my only options?

I think Cal is going to improve -- but the record might not show it simply because of who they have to play. The nonconference schedule is brutal. The North is brutal. I think I wrote something somewhere at sometime not to be surprised if Cal sneaks up on one of the top four in the North and pulls an upset. But of those top four, three of them are on the road (Oregon State is the only home game).

Colorado -- as you deftly point out -- could triple its win total. I could see that. I think Colorado State and Central Arkansas are winnable and then there might be one or two more wins out there. I think you certainly would chalk up a three- or four-win season as a victory for the Buffs and Mike MacIntyre in his first year.

As for the Trojans, I think they need at least nine wins to pick up the pieces from last year. If they only get eight, they had better beat UCLA and Notre Dame along the way. I'm not sold that the sky is falling on USC -- but I do think they are at a critical juncture. As I've noted a few times, I really like the switch to the 3-4 and think that's going to pay huge dividends because they have to do a better job stopping the run. They are right there with ASU and UCLA as legitimate contenders for the South Division. And if they end up in the Pac-12 title game, that would certainly qualify as a turnaround season.

Bob in Tempe writes: How the hell you have Washington over ASU is beyond me. Damn Californians ...

Kevin Gemmell: I'm not sure how being from California impacts the projection of a team from Washington over a team from Arizona. But I'll let that one slide.

As I noted in the future power rankings, Arizona State could very well be at the top of the rankings in 2016. Just give me one season of double-digit wins. One season with multiple wins over ranked opponents. One season where they finish the year ranked and I'll buy it.

And here's the counter argument -- you haven't seen that from Washington, either. And you're right. We haven't seen a 10-win season. But they did beat two top 10 teams last year, where Arizona State beat No. 24 Arizona in a rivalry game.

Don't get me wrong, I'm high on ASU this year. But those future power rankings were as much about building a program and sustaining success. I think Washington has already gone through the process of building up their program and now they are ready to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Whereas ASU is still in the early stages of re-branding itself under Todd Graham. That's not a knock on the program. It just takes time. And I'm convinced he's the right guy for the job. He and I were chatting yesterday, as a matter of fact, and I'm buying what he's selling.

Bob, you've inspired me! Everyone, if you feel compelled over the weekend, send me what your future power rankings will look like in 2016. Be reasonable (if possible). And try to be logical (if possible). If we get enough that are publishable, Ted and I will run some of them next week. Same format, rank them 1-through-12 with a sentence or two explaining your logic.

Harry in Minnesota writes: Kevin:Thanks for your excellent and detailed coverage of the conference and my favorite team in it, Stanford. Ok. But: I'm not clear why so many pundits ranks Brent Hundley so highly. I've watched and rewatched Hundley's two games against Stanford, and they prompted me to compare Hundley's numbers with Kevin Hogan's: PER: Hogan 148, Hundley 148 Third down PER: Hogan 142, Hundley 120.Third down conversion percentage passing: Hogan 47%, Hundley 38% Third down conversion percentage passing or rushing: Hogan 43%, Hundley 34 + runs: Hundley 19 (1.4 per game), Hogan 15 (2.5 per game)First downs rushing: Hundley 25 (1.9 per game); Hogan 19 (3.2 per game)W-L: Hundley 9-5, Hogan 6-0. On first down and with the option of giving the ball to Jonathan Franklin, Hundley was an effective quarterback. After that, but particularly on the money down (3rd), he was remarkably less effective. Of course, it may be that the pundits rank Hogan right behind him, but hesitate to say that until Hogan has more than six games to his resume. Perhaps. But I'm left with the feeling that Brent Hundley just looks the part of a fast, athletic, dangerous college quarterback; it's a Moneyball effect. Do you agree? Or am I missing something that my eyes and the statistics miss?

Kevin Gemmell: Like the fact that after first down, Hundley was left scrambling for his life? Only two teams in FBS football were worse at allowing sacks than UCLA (and both actually come from the Pac-12). Hundley takes some of the blame -- he has to get better at knowing when to throw it away. But he certainly didn't have the quality of offensive line play that Hogan did. UCLA was playing three freshman and a guy who hadn't played football in two years.

That will change this year. And I suspect Hundley will be a much better quarterback for it. He is the real deal. But I think Hogan is as well.

Both are outstanding quarterbacks. But Stanford did a much better job protecting Hogan -- literally and figuratively. Hundley was thrown right into the thick of it -- with a new coach running a new offense that he wasn't recruited for. Both had outstanding backs to lean on. Both have outstanding coaches overseeing their progress.

But they also run two very different types of systems. And if you're just watching Hundley in those two games, remember those came at the tail end of his first year as starter and he'd already been put on his back more than 40 times. It's a long season and those shots added up. He's added about 17 pounds of muscle (I was pretty shocked when I first saw him when I went up there to visit in spring ball), but he's retained his speed.

Just for funsies, let's say Hogan was at UCLA and Hundley was at Stanford (to my knowledge, Hogan wasn't offered by any other Pac-12 schools, but Hundley did receive an offer from Stanford).

Hundley wouldn't have had to learn a new system with a new coach (he would have learned for a year under Andrew Luck). And suppose was brought along slowly -- as Hogan was -- and inserted halfway into the year. My guess is we'd probably see similar results. And I think if Hogan started 14 games for the Bruins, we'd probably see close to similar results there.

In his first year as a starter, Hundley completed 66.5 percent of his throws with 29 touchdowns. I'll take that from a first-year starter.

So in the end -- Hogan or Hundley? Hundley or Hogan? I think both are perfect fits for where they are at. And the fans are the real winners because when you toss in Marcus Mariota and Taylor Kelly, you've got a really exciting crop of quarterbacks to watch each week.

Just Saying in Las Vegas writes: I am going to be the guy to say the obvious, the Pac 12 will be known as the sissy conference if this "no contact rule" is enforced. Why doesn't the Pac 12 just give up their manhood and sponsor soccer? Football is a man's sport; a violent sport. That's just how it is. It's hard to feel THAT sorry for college players when they get these huge scholarships and everything [including grades] handed to them. Then if they go pro, we're talking about millions upon millions of dollars annually. I am so glad the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and ACC actually have some pride by continuing to allow hits in practice. I know you guys are Pac 12 cheerleaders, so get ready to be making lame excuses as to why Pac teams just aren't as tough as other power conference teams.

Kevin Gemmell: Wow, someone drank too much come-at-me-bro-juice this morning and got their TapOut undies in a bunch.

First, the premise of your note is wrong. It's not a no-contact rule. It's limiting the amount of hitting in practice -- something that a lot of schools in those conferences you mentioned are already doing. And they are doing it in the NFL also. In fact, I'm pretty sure what the Pac-12 is doing is mostly drawn from NFL policy. They'll release the official policy next month, but I promise it's nothing that already isn't being done across the country.

And you don't need to have suffered a concussion to suffer from brain damage.

You are right, though. This is a violent game. And as we move into the College Football Playoff era, there is going to be a call for standardization across the board: Standardized scheduling, number of assistants for assistants etc. And yes -- full-on hitting in practice is going to be one of those things that I believe will be regulated across college football in the coming years. You might not like it, but this is the direction of football -- professional or otherwise. And it's been happening for a while. The Pac-12 is just the first to standardize it and put out a press release about it.

So have another Rockstar and get on board, or pick another sport to follow.

But if you're feeling extra geeked up, feel free to walk up to this guy and call him a sissy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy.

And by the way, on this blog, you'll get a lot more respect if you actually use your name. Just saying.

Nonconference primer: Colorado

June, 21, 2013
We continue our series taking a closer look at each Pac-12 team's nonconference schedule.


Colorado State, Sept. 1 (in Denver)
  • Coach: Jim McElwain (4-8), second year
  • 2012 record: 4-8, 3-5 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: nine offense, six defense
  • Offensive headliner(s): The Rams have a deep running back corps with Chris Nwoke (who led the team in rushing in 2011) and Donnell Alexander (who led the team in 2012) both coming back.
  • Defensive headliner: Cornerback Shaq Bell is the leader of a young secondary. He was all-league honorable mention last year after posting 66 tackles, a sack, a pick and he recovered three fumbles.
  • The skinny: The Rams went through a quarterback carousel last year (which should sound familiar to Colorado fans) but appear to be settling on Garrett Grayson, last year's original starter. Last season, McElwain became the first Rams coach to win his debut in 42 years. And it came against the Buffs after they failed to hold a 17-16 fourth-quarter lead in the season opener.
Central Arkansas, Sept. 7
  • Coach: Clint Conque (98-54), 14th year
  • 2012 record: 9-3, 6-1 Southland
  • Returning starters: eight offense, nine defense
  • Offensive headliner: Quarterback Wynrick Smothers put up fantastic numbers last year, earning the league's Offensive Player of the Year honors while completing 64.9 percent of his throws for 3,103 yards with 31 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also rushed for 449 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Defensive headliner: Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Woodard earned the league's Freshman of the Year honors last season after posting 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks in 2012.
  • The skinny: Conque is the winningest coach in school history. They hung with Ole Miss last year and took Louisiana Tech to overtime the year before that, so they won't be intimidated at the mere thought of playing an FBS team. And the Buffs, though I don't think anyone needs reminding, fell at home to FCS opponent Sacramento State last year.
Fresno State, Sept. 14
  • Coach: Tim DeRuyter (9-4), second year
  • 2012 record: 9-4, 7-1 Mountain West
  • Returning starters: seven offense, eight defense
  • Offensive headliner: Senior quarterback Derek Carr was the 2012 MWC Offensive Player of the Year, setting a new league record with 4,104 passing yards. His 37 touchdowns last year were second all-time in league history and he has the second-highest career touchdown-to-interception ratio (63-16) of all returning FBS quarterbacks with at least 300 completions.
  • Defensive headliner: Nose guard Tyeler Davison -- a first-team all-league selection last year -- posted 43 stops last year, tops among the Bulldogs D-linemen. He also had seven tackles for a loss with three sacks and he was the only Fresno State defensive lineman to start every game last year.
  • The skinny: After taking a slice of the MWC title last year, the Bulldogs should be tough again -- though they are moving on without running back Robbie Rouse -- the school's all-time leading rusher. Interestingly enough, Rouse set the school record on a 94-yard touchdown run (his fourth touchdown of the first quarter) in a 69-14 win over Colorado last year.
Thoughts: Colorado lost two close games to open 2012 -- the first to Colorado State and the next week to Sacramento State -- and that essentially opened the flood gates for a horrific season (save the Washington State shocker). The Rams are one of CU's oldest rivals and just as the Buffs gave McElwain his first career win, Mike MacIntyre getting his first career win against CSU would add nice symmetry to the rivalry. As noted, Central Arkansas is no pushover. But both of those games should fall under the winnable category. They get Fresno State at home and should -- at least -- have a better showing than they did last year. I don't think asking for a 2-1 start is out of the question. But another 0-3 opening would kill any momentum Colorado has heading into the year with its new coaching staff.

You can see the rest of the series here.